Entering the season, the Pace Patriots (2-0) — under first year head coach Kent Smith — were one of the area’s biggest question marks.
Many wondered how Pace’s new offense and several new Patriots would fare.
So far, so good, as the Patriots are undefeated after besting Pensacola High 36-19 last week.
This week they’ll up the ante, as undefeated Pine Forest (2-0) — ranked No. 1 in PNJ Power Poll and recognized as preseason area favorite by statewide publications — travels to take on Pace.
“We’ve been against ’em (Pine Forest) many a time,” said Smith, who coached as an assistant at Pace for 22 years. “The Eagles are very athletic and they are big too. They really have it all. One thing about a Jerry Pollard (Pine Forest coach) team, they are always going to well-coached and going to be physical.
“We (Pace) prepared and we are gonna go play as hard as we can play.”
Through two games, Smith has seen his team finish strong, but Pace’s starts have been a bit too sluggish.
“We can’t afford to get a bad start Friday night,” Smith said. “We’ve got to hold onto the football and we’ve got to finish drives. We had four lost fumbles last Friday, we’ve got to cut down on that.”
Last Friday, Pace’s defense sealed the win with a second-half shutout as the Patriots outscored Pensacola High 36-6 after the first quarter.
With Jaxon Adams and Bailey Clark on the line, and Layne Plant (23 tackles, 1 sack) at inside linebacker, the Patriots have been suffocating up front for opposing teams.
Tony Gibson and Cameron Bozeman hold down the secondary to solidify the “D.”
“Our defense has really stepped up and played well,” Smith said. “Last week our offense gave up some points off a fumble. But after the second quarter our defense really helped us have control of the game.”
Pace’s defense will have their hands full with a variety of athletes at Pine Forest — even if QB Xavier Saulsberry is questionable to play (missed last week and second half of week one) with a high ankle sprain.
Sophomore Cal West filled in for Saulsberry last week, completing 7-of-10 passes as Pine Forest topped Choctaw 46-10.
The Eagles backfield was electric as always, as three players accounted for carries of 40 yards or more (Anwar Lewis 99 yard run, Jaden Gardner 50 yard run, Ladarius Wiggins 43 yard run).
Jacob Copeland will aim to slice through Pace’s secondary, as the junior hauled in five catches for 116 yards and one TD last week.
Want to Go?
Where: Pace High
When: 7:30 p.m.
Skinny: There can only be one winner in the battle of the unbeatens. Pine Forest took last year’s meeting 33-14.Pine Forest wiill look for big plays and aggresive defense, while the Patriots seek to control the game at home.
Radio: ESPN Pensacola/Pensacola News Journal Game of the Week; FM 101.1 and AM 1450, pregame 7 p.m.