ATHENS – Despite a dramatic fourth quarter comeback, Pinecrest Academy couldn’t hold on.
Athens Academy drove 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:04 left and held on to deal the Paladins a 24-17 loss Friday on the road in a Region 8-A game.
"We just did not execute the way we’ve executed all season," Pinecrest coach Todd Winter said. "I’m not going to make excuses. We have to play well, and [Athens Academy] is a good football team. I think they’re a scrappy football team."
Ryan McCarthy gave Pinecrest (4-2, 1-1) a 17-16 lead — its first of the game — on a 24-yard touchdown run with 5:55 left in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 16-0 late in the third quarter, Pinecrest began to chip away with a 37-yard field goal by Alex Brenner with 1:26 left to make it 16-3.
Anthony Carco scored on a 3-yard run to pull within 16-10 with 10:35 left in the game to set the stage for McCarthy’s go-ahead touchdown.
But Athens Academy (4-2, 1-1) responded. The Spartans drove the length of the field in 3:51, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Eric Williams with a successful two-point conversion to finish the scoring.
"They’ve got to go 80 yards with basically five minutes left on the clock," Winter said. "I feel pretty good about our defense making someone go 80 yards."
Instead, Pinecrest’s defense struggled for the first time since the team’s season-opening loss to King’s Ridge. Athens Academy outgained Pinecrest 312-199 on offense.
McCarthy rushed for a team-high 92 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, while Andrew Wilborn had 13 carries for 65 yards. But the Paladins were just 2 of 12 passing for 15 yards and an interception.
Pinecrest was left to wonder about several chances that slipped away.
Early in the first quarter, Athens Academy snapped the ball over its punter’s head, and Pinecrest recovered it on the Spartans’ 5. But the Paladins managed just two yards on three plays and missed a short field goal.
"We had to come away with points right there," Winter said. "To me, that was the game. When you get to the 5 yard line, that’s a momentum-builder, a confidence-booster."
Pinecrest later fumbled a kickoff return that led to an Athens Academy touchdown.
The Paladins had three turnovers in all.
"We’ve got to regroup," Winter said. "We’re 4-2. We’re not 2-4. We’re a good football team, and we’re a very young football team. What we’ve got to do is learn from our mistakes and get a little bit better."