Patriots Have Everyone Cheering
The Pinecrest High School football team has captivated the entire community with its improbable season.
The Patriots will make their first playoff appearance since 1996 on Friday when they visit defending 4A state champion J.T. Hoggard in Wilmington -- a remarkable feat for a program that was on death's doorstep two years ago and hasn't had a winning season since 1995.
"It goes without saying, it's unbelievable," said Tom Benton, head of the Pinecrest Football Boosters. "The excitement and enthusiasm is incredible."
Benton called second-year head coach Chris Metzger the key ingredient to the football team's revival. Metzger came to Pinecrest from Lely High School in Naples, Fla., in early 2007.
"It's just unbelievable to think where we're at," Benton said. "But it's easy to understand why when you're around Coach Metzger and his staff."
The team was a combined 3-40 in the four years before Metzger arrived, and it had lost an astonishing 30 conference games in a row.
There were serious doubts about the future of the struggling program two years ago when the Moore County Board of Education considered eliminating it altogether.
In Metzger's first season, the Patriots squad showed improvement and finished the year at 3-8. But the 2008 campaign has proved to be something the community could have never imagined.
Pinecrest quickly jumped out to a 4-0 start, beating in-county rival Union Pines and stunning a Southern Lee team that beat them 63-0 in 2006.
After dropping a tough one to Douglas Byrd, the Patriots registered back-to-back wins against Scotland and Richmond counties, both powerhouse teams in the conference. The win over the Scots was Pinecrest's first conference victory since 2002 and first over that school since 1996. The win over Richmond was the first over that school since 1992 and only its third conference loss since the league was established in 2001. It was a monumental upset.
Pinecrest's win over Hoke County the following week was the first since 1996.
When it went to 6-1 and then 7-1, the Patriots began receiving votes in the AP coaches' poll. Despite a three-game losing streak, Pinecrest finished the regular season at 7-4. Facing J.T. Hoggard will be a stiff test for the Patriots, but Metzger said his team is ready for the challenge.
"This is the first time in the playoffs in 12 years, so from that standpoint it's a great thing for our community," he said. "This is where we want to be. We want to play great teams. It's why we play the schedule we do.
"We're not just happy to be in it. We're going out to compete."
'Total Community Effort'
Regardless of the outcome of Friday's game, Benton said that community support for the team has been incredible. Students and faculty at Pinecrest have been buzzing about the team all season.
Home crowds have been huge and raucous, even in a rainstorm during the homecoming game versus Hoke County. Concession sales at games have skyrocketed.
"It's a rallying point for the entire community," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything more."
Pinecrest athletic director Ernie Purnsley agreed that there's been a lot of buzz going around the school.
"It's been an exciting time here," he said. "It's been a tremendous year for all sports at Pinecrest."
He called the rebuilding of the football program "a total community effort."
The success of the team has spurred unprecedented interest in football among younger children in the community. Southern Moore County has long been considered "soccer territory," with the Sandhills Celtic Soccer Club (SCSC), formerly Sandhills Youth Soccer League, program enjoying high participation year in and year out.
But this year, the football program sponsored by the Optimist Club, of which Benton is a member, has seen a large increase in participation.
"We've had to turn a bunch of kids away because of a lack of equipment," he said. "The enthusiasm and quality of play is unbelievable."
Southern Pines Mayor Mike Haney said he was "in awe" of what Pinecrest has been able to accomplish this year. He said the pride the team has generated is such an important part of the community. He said it is vital for the public school to have public support.
"It's so important to the community to have pride in the high school that represents us," he said. "It's such an important part of the pride we have in our community."
Benton and Haney both pointed out that football and school spirit are such integral parts of most communities.
Haney said that when he first moved to Southern Pines, he noticed a lack of school spirit and loyalty to Pinecrest. He said this football season and the effects it is having on the area is a culmination of all the hard work of so many people committed to ensuring Pinecrest take its "appropriate place" in the community.
"I'm so proud and grateful for what's been accomplished at Pinecrest High School and in our community," he said. "I really do salute those folks."
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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