LAURINBURG — One possession.
That has been the difference between a win and a loss the last three seasons when the Fighting Scots and Pinecrest have faced off.
After a blow-out win in 2013, the Scots have by the narrowest of margins defeated the Patriots. In 2014, the Scots won 29-22 followed by a 35-31 victory in 2015 courtesy of a game-winning interception by University of North Carolina linebacker Jonathan Smith. Last season, the Scots defeated the Patriots 20-13 thanks to a one-yard touchdown in the third quarter by senior tailback Zamir White.
“The last three years have been one possession games and we’ve reminded our kids of that,” said Scots head coach Richard Bailey. “Football is a weird game and you have to be ready to play. This is a game Pinecrest feels they can win. We’ve been undefeated in the conference for six going on seven years. Every game that goes by the target gets a little bigger.”
Unlike in past years, Pinecrest is not undefeated coming into Friday’s game, the Patriots are 5-3 overall and 2-2 in Sandhills Athletic Conference play.
Pinecrest lost three games in three weeks in September — their first loss came in Charlotte against Providence, a team that is currently 5-3. The next two losses came against Seventy-First and Richmond to open conference play.
The Patriots have since bounced back with an 18-point win over Purnell Swett and a seven-point win Lumberton.
“On paper it looks different because they have three losses, but in reality they didn’t play any big teams before they played us last year,” said Bailey. “In the past Pinecrest has had a really weak non-conference schedule, this year their schedule was much tougher.”
The other major change for Pinecrest was losing starting quarterback Nick Pry and linebacker Jaylin Dickerson. Pry opted out of playing football his senior year to remain healthy after committing to the University of North Carolina to play baseball next fall. Dickerson graduated and is now playing football at the University of South Carolina.
Pry and Dickerson were both first-team All-Southeastern Conference last season with Dickerson winning Defensive Player of the Year.
Those losses haven’t crippled Pinecrest on offense or defense, but were significant holes the Patriots had to fill. Junior Greg VanSteen replaced Pry as the starting quarterback and so far this season has 62 passes for 920 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Pinecrest still runs an unconventional offense for a 4A school being a split-back team, which isn’t something Bailey and the Scots have seen this season or will see again.
“It’s like playing a wing-T team, at the 4A level we don’t play a lot of those. In the smaller classifications, 1A and 2A, it’s very common but not at the 4A level,” Bailey said.
A wing-T offense is when three running backs, typically two half-backs and a fullback, line up behind the quarterback. The formation from above looks like a “t” which is how the scheme got its name.
The Pinecrest defense is allowing 21.5 points per game to go along with five sacks, six interceptions and two forced fumbles.
“Pinecrest’s defense is as much about their scheme as it is about their people,” said Bailey. “They don’t have just one dynamic player like they had last year but collectively they play really well.”
The other issue Scotland runs into when playing Pinecrest is a lack of possessions. The Patriots like to play keep away and limit the number of possessions they allow their opponent to have by continually running down the play-clock.
“If you only give us five possessions, we can only score 35 points if we score every time. We don’t get enough possessions to score 50 or 60 points even if we score every time and that’s sort of Coach (Chris) Metzger’s mentality,” said Bailey. “You can’t get blown out if the other team doesn’t have the ball — and that’s smart. We’ve got to maximize our possessions, when we do have it we have to capitalize.”
Turnovers, penalties and bad snaps nearly cost the Scots the game last year against Pinecrest. Pre-snap penalties were a problem for the Scots last week against Seventy-First and have been a focus for Bailey and his staff this week in practice.
“Last year one of the reasons the game was close is turnovers, penalties, bad snaps — things that basically cost us possessions,” Bailey said. “We can’t do that, we’re going to need to play a lot cleaner.”
The Fighting Scots and Pinecrest will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Pate Stadium. A large crowd is expected so fans are encouraged to arrive early to the game.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.