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Pinecrest Academy football opens playoffs at Tattnall Square
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Pinecrest Academys Grayson DuBose takes a handoff from Paladins quarterback Ryan McCarthy in a game earlier this season. The Paladins hope a return to physical practices will revive their rushing attack. - photo by Bill Brown

Pinecrest Academy at Tattnall Square

When, where: Friday, 7:30 p.m., at Jack Baynes Field in Macon.

Records, rankings, seedings: Pinecrest is 7-3, unranked in Class A and the No. 10 seed; Tattnall Square is 9-1, ranked No. 9 and the No. 7 seed.

Series history: Tattnall Square leads 1-0.

Last meeting: Tattnall Square won 47-0 in 2008.

Maxwell Projection: Tattnall Square by 9.

Pinecrest stopped hitting in practice prior to its Oct. 17 game at Mt. Pisgah—knowing a state playoff appearance was likely—and the Paladins stopped finishing drives.

With two weeks to prepare for today’s trip to Macon to face No. 7 seed Tattnall Square Academy (9-1) in the first round of the Class A private school playoffs, Pinecrest coach Todd Winter returned to physical practices so that the 10th-seeded Paladins (7-3) can revive their punishing running game.

"We wanted to keep guys healthy but I think we maybe got softer in the process," Winter said. "We had chances to score points against Fellowship, Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Zion-Carroll and didn’t do it. Last week we started hitting again and we’ve been getting after it and have been really physical."

Winter’s decision to lay off hitting did keep Pinecrest healthy. The Paladins have all 37 players healthy, an impressive feat given their tough schedule, as Adam Guard ("The heart and soul of our football team right now," Winter said) returns from an ankle injury that limited him severely in the final game of the regular season.

Tattnall Square, meanwhile, will be without two of its leading rushers in Jonathan Ward (sprained ankle) and Jack Haughawout (broken leg), both of whom picked up injuries in the Trojans’ 49-21 loss to No. 2 Aquinas in the Region 7-A championship game two weeks ago.

The Trojans, like Pinecrest, run the triple-option offense. Head coach Clint Morgan’s team threw the ball only 25 times over its final five games.

In a game with two ball-control offenses, possessions and field position will be at a premium. At Mt. Zion-Carroll two weeks ago, Pinecrest fumbled the ball away at its own 2 and failed to score after forcing a turnover at the Mt. Zion 9.

"We did some nice things in that game but we didn’t play anywhere close to a complete game," Winter said. "That said, we’ve played as good or better teams than [Tattnall Square] has. Whether we come to play or not is the question."

Pinecrest slot back Mitchell Ojeda said having two weeks to prepare for Friday’s game should help the Paladins in a number of ways.

"Adam [Guard] is back to 100 percent," he said. "Everybody else got a chance to heal up, and we’ve been able to watch more film than usual."

It’s 114 miles from Pinecrest Academy to Tattnall Square Academy’s campus in Macon, though that’s nothing new for the Paladins, who made trips to Carrollton and Trion already this season.

"If we’re not ready for this, then I don’t know what to do," Winter said. "We understand what a tough environment is like. This is not a new thing for us to get on a bus and travel two or three hours."

Friday’s contest marks the first appearance in the Georgia High School Association state playoffs for both Pinecrest and Tattnall. One side will get its first GHSA playoff win—the side, Winter said, who plays toughest.