By Patricia Duffy
For the Forsyth County News
Everyone knows there’s a difference between practice and game time: “Live-action,” as Pinecrest Academy head coach Terance Mathis likes to call it.
Practice, a scrimmage with a running clock, and approximately 30 plays weren’t enough to fully prepare the Paladins for the speed and efficiency they faced against Fellowship Christian in their first game of the season.
“(Fellowship) had a scrimmage, a game, and… it happens,” Mathis said following Pinecrest’s 47-14 loss.
Despite being region opponents in the GHSA 1A Private school division (and, coincidentally, sharing a school mascot), Pinecrest (0-1) and Fellowship (1-0) were night and day on the field.
It was a big ask from the start to take Pinecrest’s 30-man roster, minus star tackler Joey Kiernan, and expect a win out of the gates against one of the division's top teams and its significantly larger 50-man roster. Looking past the depth charts, the team's inexperience showed, as Fellowship jumped to a 28-0 lead before the end of the first quarter.
“Half of the team has never played a varsity down,” said Mathis. “More than half. Probably 80 percent. So there’s going to be growing pains.”
Junior quarterback Bryce Balthaser, in his first-ever varsity start, emphasized the speed and physicality of Fellowship and the differences of playing at this level, in general.
“It’s a lot faster than JV,” Balthaser said. “A lot more physical. Everything is faster-paced.”
Even Mathis, the former NFL athlete and tenured coach, suffered some growing pains at the start.
“I had four or five weeks (to prepare) for this game, and I called the first play of the game wrong,” Mathis said, laughing. “I told them I made a mistake on the first play of the game. You laugh about it. It happens.”
But there’s plenty of silver linings and lessons to be learned looking forward to the long season ahead.
After Pinecrest lost its starting quarterback and running back from last season, Balthaser, Tony Novo, and Alex Jeffords showed glimmers of potential.
Balthaser went 10 for 20 for 147 yards through the air, including one touchdown and an early interception. On the ground, he was the team’s leading rusher for most of the night, finishing with 50 yards over 16 carries.
“I’ve always been a passer,” Balthaser said. “This year, they started using me more as a runner, so now I’m a dual-threat. It helps our team out a lot because I can do both. (We can) move the ball easier.”
Despite navigating murky waters in his first start, his go-to receiver was clear as day. Arguably the best play of the game came when Balthaser connected with Ethan Massey on a 59-yard pass that set up a Novo 5-yard touchdown.
Novo, a junior running back, had a slow start to his season but finished the night with 16 carries for 20 yards and that score. Meanwhile, Jeffords contributed significantly later in the game, with nine of his 10 carries coming in the second half. He finished the night as the team’s leading rusher with 54 yards.
It certainly wasn’t the start the Paladins hoped for, but Mathis and his players know this is only the beginning. With Kiernan expected back next week and a game in the books, they’ll look forward, let it go, and prepare for the next one.
“I saw a lot of good things to build on,” Mathis said. “We’ll lick our wounds. We’ll move on.”