Pinecrest coach Todd Winter told his team before Friday’s game that he wanted them to be the hunters, and not the hunted.
Whitefield dodged one bullet when the Paladins failed to score on 4th-and-goal from the 1 early in the first quarter after a muffed punt, but Pinecrest defensive back Mitchell Ojeda punished the Wolfpack just six plays later by stepping in front of Sky Dupree’s throw and sprinting 21 yards for the touchdown.
The Paladins made no mistake when Whitefield muffed another punt inside its own 10 in the third quarter: Matt Walters flipped in from seven yards out as Pinecrest polished off the Wolfpack, 28-7, at home on Friday.
"We might have to fire our special teams coach—that’s me," Whitefield (2-3, 0-1 Region 6-A Division B) head coach Jimmy Fields said, with a wink.
Pinecrest (4-1, 1-0) had come home from last Friday’s whopping at the hands of Mt. Paran with tails tucked firmly between its legs. Winter’s team went to Kennesaw oozing confidence before the highest-profile game for the school in recent memory, but an early fumble on a kickoff return helped put to rest any hopes of an upset.
The Paladins needed to get their mojo back.
"I don’t think it can be overstated how big this week was," Winter said. "We had a ton of swagger going in to Mt. Paran, but they had kids who had been in that situation before, whereas we had not. We lost some of that confidence last week and we got that back tonight."
When Logan Hamilton scooped up Whitefield punt returner Ajani Kerr’s fumble at the Wolfpack 10 with just over four minutes gone in the first quarter, the Paladins perked up. When Pinecrest quarterback Ryan McCarthy was stuffed on two rushes from the 1-yard line, the sophomore trudged to the sideline, counting blades of grass on a muddy field.
Ojeda rejuvenated the Paladins shortly thereafter: Whitefield’s Dupree sailed his throw on 3rd-and-12 in to Ojeda’s cradled arms, and the 6-foot-1 junior loped in for a 7-0 lead.
Adam Guard added to the Paladins’ lead early in the second quarter. McCarthy pitched to his left past the outstretched arms on a Whitefield defensive end, and Guard used receiver Sean Flannigan’s block to beat two defenders to the pylon.
"Ryan did a great job and was making the right checks at the line," Winter said. "I can only remember one time tonight where he made a bad read. Whitefield made us earn every yard we got. With Walker, we could call one or two plays and march down the field, but with them, we used our whole arsenal."
The Paladins took advantage of positive field position on a number of possessions, but their longest drive of the night was perhaps the most important. Pinecrest forced a Whitefield three-and-out after Guard’s touchdown, but the Wolfpack pinned the Paladins at their own 10. McCarthy appeared to roll right to attempt a pass on 3rd-and-9. Instead, Walters took off unnoticed thanks to the quarterback’s fake for a 41-yard gain. Jake Mangan then hit Nick Palmer for a 29-yard gain on 1st-and-27, and Ojeda took another misdirection pitch 25 yards for a deflating touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
"Our counter plays were effective in both halves because our motion was triggering a lot of their pursuit," Winter said. "They’re big, athletic and fly to the football on defense, but we used that against them at times—we had to."
Whitefield inserted Carson Brown at quarterback just before halftime and moved the ball with some success, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
"We got down in the first half, frustrated a bit," Fields said. "Came out in the second half, got a few first downs and drove it a bit, continued to play good defense, but the one score we gave up in the second half, they only had to go 7 yards."
Whitefield caught another punt inside its own 10, and fumbled again. There would be no goal-line stand this time, as Walters plowed through two Wolfpack defenders and pirouetted in to the end zone for Pinecrest’s final tally.
"Against a good football team like that, you can’t fumble the ball two times inside your own 10-yard line and expect to get away with it," Fields said. "Give them credit—they took advantage. We need to take better care of the ball."
Pinecrest turns its attention to St. Francis, who visits Cumming next Friday. The Knights were 4-0 entering tonight’s game against Mt. Pisgah; results of that game were not available as of press time.
"Our mojo is back," Winter said. "Can we keep it up?"
Pinecrest Academy 28, Whitefield Academy 7
Whitefield Acad. 0 0 7 0–7
Pinecrest Acad. 7 14 7 0–28
P: Ojeda 21 interception return (kick good), 3:19
P: Guard 17 run (kick good), 9:07
P: Ojeda 25 run (kick good), 5:11
P: Walters 7 run (kick good), 6:43
W: Brown 38 pass to Jackson (kick good), 1:59
RUSHING—Whitefield: Brown 5-22; Edge 9-13; Ball 5-12; Dupree 7-12; Jackson 1-0; Kerr 1-(-1). Pinecrest: Walters 14-95; McCarthy 17-61; Ojeda 7-58; Guard 5-23; Varghese 2-5; Mangan 1-3.
PASSING—Whitefield: Brown 4-6-1 68. Dupree 2-8-1 26. Pinecrest: McCarthy 6-8 57; Mangan 1-1 29.
RECEIVING—Whitefield: Jackson 5-84; Edge 1-8; Kerr 1-4; Dupree 1-4. Pinecrest: Palmer 4-62; Guard 2-13; Hamilton 1-11.