After a nearly spotless regular season, Pinecrest Academy faced familiar foe Mount Paran Christian in its regular season finale at home, a huge rematch against the only team to beat the Paladins this season.
Buoyed by a peerless rushing performance by Ryan McCarthy and two massive defensive stands in the fourth quarter, the Paladins came away with a 28-21 win, shocking the defending state champs and ending the season as champions of Region 6-A for the first time in school history.
Tied 21-21 entering the fourth quarter, the Paladins’ defense saved their best work for last. On fourth-and-short near midfield, Pinecrest (9-1) stopped the Eagles’ rushing attempt and turned the ball over to its offense with less than six minutes remaining.
On the very next play, McCarthy (20 carries, 153 yards, 3 TDs) kept the ball off the right side and bulldozed his way past a weary Eagles defense, breaking through tackles on his way to a 48-yard touchdown, putting his team ahead by a score of 28-21.
“(After) we made that play on defense, there was no way we weren’t going to score,” McCarthy said. “The offense was so hyped up … we had to win after that stop.”
On the next Mount Paran possession, Pinecrest stepped up once again on defense, forcing a second turnover on downs inside Eagles territory. McCarthy and the offense drained the few remaining minutes off the clock and put a bow on the Paladins’ biggest win of an already impressive season.
“The kids fought for four quarters in really tough conditions,” Pinecrest coach Todd Winters said. “This team has really bonded together and our number one focus is to always ‘keep our North,’ which allows us to love our teammates and play for each other.”
A dreary, moist day created tenuous on-field conditions that both teams had to deal with. Perhaps due to the muddy conditions, miscommunications and penalties abounded throughout the contest, especially for an Eagles squad that racked up nearly 100 total penalty yards.
Pinecrest’s first break of the game came late in the first quarter it recovered a Mount Paran botched snap in Eagles territory. McCarthy led his team down the short-field and, after converting a fourth-and-goal inside the 5-yard-line, plunged into the end zone for the game’s first score, giving the Paladins a 7-0 edge.
Mount Paran rusher Taylor Trammell (27 carries, 244 yards, 2 TDs) was a nightmare to defend in the teams’ first meeting and picked up right off where he left in the rematch, breaking off a 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. But he was slowed by an injury in the fourth quarter, and the Paladins’ defense contained Tremmell in the final two possessions.
After Trammell’s dazzling run, Pinecrest shot back with a little magic of its own on third-and-long at its own 12. McCarthy hit receiver Corey Downs with a short pass. Downs immediately flipped the ball to junior Michael Birozes who caught the ball with a full head of steam. Birozes sprinted the rest of the way to complete an 88-yard “hook and ladder” touchdown, giving Pinecrest a 14-6 lead.
The squads swapped scores in the third quarter, with Pinecrest scoring on a 3-yard run by Greg Varghese and Mount Paran finding the end zone on a 31-yard pass by Matthew Norton, making the score 21-21 heading into the decisive fourth quarter.
“I feel awesome right now,” McCarthy said breathlessly after taking the final knee to end the game. “We knew that we had to stick it to them from play number one, and we were just ready.”
With the upset win, Pinecrest Academy finds itself atop the Region 6-A standings with a home playoff game upcoming next week.
“Before, all anyone was talking about was our win against No. 6-ranked George Walton in 2012,” Winters said. “I told our guys to make their mark, make their legacy, and that’s what they did.”