By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
Midway through their homecoming matchup with St. Francis on Friday night, the Pinecrest Academy football team entered the half having scored 16 unanswered points for a 16-7 lead and seemed very much on their way to winning their third consecutive game.
But two turnovers and 13 unanswered St. Francis points later, the Pinecrest supporters and players sat in a silent, dejected huddle at midfield and listened to a raucous St. Francis crowd celebrate a 20-16 final score that marked both a missed opportunity for the Paladins and a return back to a sub-.500 record.
“They didn’t do anything (different),” Pinecrest head coach Terance Mathis said on his team’s second-half letdown. “We just laid down.”
The turning points of the game were a pair of Paladin turnovers early in the second half, both of which resulted in points.
On the second play of the half, Pinecrest quarterback Ryan DiFazio fired a quick pass to wide receiver Peter Hoover, who fumbled at the 16 yard line after taking an immediate hit after the catch. The Knights scored three plays later on third-down, 17-yard touchdown run by Josh Gil.
The second and ultimately lethal turnover occurred with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
On a third-and-10 from his own 29, DiFazio dropped back, scrambled to his right to avoid pressure and attempted to throw the ball away. But rather than the sideline, the ball found its way directly into the waiting arms of St. Francis’s Gianni Dorsey, who ran 30 unhindered yards to the end zone and a four-point-lead.
“We’re just not executing,” Mathis said. “That’s the best way to put it. Especially in that second half. We’ve just got to be smarter.”
Pinecrest’s defense, which has largely been one of the major strengths of the team throughout the season, continued in that fashion for the majority of the night, forcing five total punts and thwarting one fake attempt late in the fourth.
However, by the end of the second half, the combination of multiple short fields, along with the offense’s inability to convert, would ultimately lead to a final, twelve-play, game-sealing drive by St. Francis that would include five total first downs and chew up the remaining six-and-a-half minutes.
The now 3-4 Paladins will move on next week with an away game at King’s Ridge and another attempt to climb back to .500 in the final weeks of the regular season.
“We’re going to be OK,” Mathis said. “Right now it hurts and it’s disappointing, but we’re going to be fine.”