A week ago, Pinecrest Academy’s defense helped it overcome struggles on offense to advance. The Paladins’ couldn’t do the same Friday in a 43-15 loss to Stratford Academy at home in the quarterfinals of the Class A private school playoffs.
Although the contest was close early on, Stratford ended a 7-7 second quarter tie by reeling off 36 unanswered points, ending Pinecrest’s most successful season since joining the Georgia High School Association.
Stratford (9-3) advances to play Aquinas, a 28-27 winner over Christian Heritage, in the state semifinals.
Pinecrest (10-2) was uncharacteristically loose with the football, fumbling away the ball twice in the first quarter alone. Execution also suffered for the Paladins as the team was only 2-for-11 on third down conversions.
“We had some opportunities that could have really changed the momentum of the game,” Pinecrest coach Todd Winter said. “We had chances to get off the field on defense, but we didn’t. Turnovers and miscues on defense really hurt us. We were not ourselves tonight.”
Similar to last week’s game against Athens Christian, the Paladins fell behind early in the first quarter. Stratford receiver and Wisconsin commit Quintez Cephus drew a pass interference call downfield, setting up a 4-yard score by Kasey Sanders to put the Eagles up 7-0 only minutes into the contest.
Pinecrest answered in the second quarter thanks to a huge play through the air. Backed up in their half of the field on third down, McCarthy rolled to his left and lofted a pass downfield to Will Patota for a 55-yard gain. The Paladins capitalized on the drive thanks to senior Mitchell Ojeda, who evened the score to 7-7 after scoring on a 9-yard toss sweep.
But Stratford closed the half with precision, scoring 15 points in the second quarter to seize firm control of the game. Sanders found the end zone a second time, streaking through the heart of the Pinecrest defense on his way to a 47-yard touchdown run. Then, with less than a minute remaining in the half, Eagles quarterback Sim Patrick muscled his way into the end zone for the initial score and then once more for the two-point conversion, giving his team a 22-7 edge after the first 28 minutes.
“It just wasn’t our night tonight,” Ojeda said. “We fought all the way to the end, but it just went in the other direction.”
Stratford started the third quarter like it ended the second, driving the ball purposefully down the field and coming away with another eight points, upping the lead to 29-7. The Eagles tacked on 14 more in the fourth quarter, including a 10-yard touchdown run by Sanders, his third on the day.
Pinecrest ended the Stratford barrage with a 3-yard touchdown run from Greg Varghese, but the effort came too late to affect the final outcome.
Pinecrest raised the bar for itself by several notches after finishing a 2015 campaign that featured far more peaks than valleys. Winters cited the progress of the program, even in the face of a stinging loss in the playoffs.
“Since 2012, this team hasn’t had a losing season,” Winter said. “We’ve been to the playoffs in back to back years, we’ve made it to the state quarterfinals, and we are still a very young team.
We have seven players returning next year on both sides of the field, and they got a taste of what it’s like to advance like this. We can use this as fuel to get a little bit better. We just got to regroup, get back in the weight room, and it’ll be 2016 before you know it.”