CARROLLTON, Ala., - An 8-0 start to the season had Pickens Academy thinking about its first undefeated state championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1998-99.
But those undefeated dreams were dashed Friday night as three fumbles resulted in the Pirates first loss falling to Patrician Academy 34-28.
One of Pickens Academy's fumbles resulted in a Saints touchdown and another came at the 5-yard line going in during the fourth quarter.
"We had some costly turnovers, especially in the second half with the one down inside the five and the costly penalty on the last drive when we had a chance to win," said Pirates head coach John Gartman. "Overall (Patricain) just played a little bit better than us tonight and that's what the score reflected."
Pickens Academy also struggled to slow down the Saints rushing attack that chewed up 347 yards on the ground. Patrician was paced by Parker Allen, who is a converted tight end and carried 25 times for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
"Big number 40 (Allen) is a hoss," Gartman said. "We had a hard time tackling him and he always seemed to drive us back on contact. I thought he was the difference in the game."
But the Pirates proved to have an arsenal in its backfield as well. Fullback Garrett Estes and tailback Joel Pratt each eclipsed the 100-yard plateau with Estes carrying 15 times for 136 yards and Pratt gaining 104 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts.
Quarterback Josh Lewis added 75 yards and a score on 15 carries as well as adding a touchdown pass, a 99-yard kickoff return for a score and 11 tackles on defense.
"They've made big plays for us all year and made a few tonight," Gartman said. "It just wasn't quite enough."
Pickens Academy finished the night with 349 yards including 314 yards on the ground.
The Pirates fell behind 34-14 following the first series of the third quarter but battled back to within one score against their larger classification opponent.
"I preach to the kids all the time that how you respond to adversity tells you a lot about your character," Gartman said. "I thought we responded very well to that tonight and was pleased with that. We've stepped up a class the past couple of weeks. Patrician is a 2A school and we're a 1A. The team we play next week (Clarke Prep) is a very good 2A team so maybe stepping up a class will help us going into the playoffs."
The loss Friday night spoiled senior night for the Pirates. 10 of Pickens Academy's 26-man roster is constructed of seniors which Gartman attributes to their turnaround success this season.
"They've done a great job," Gartman said. "We struggled last year and went 3-7 and now we're 8-1. A lot of that reason for the turnaround is the attitude our seniors have brought into this season. We've still got a lot to play for. We've got one more regular season game and we're the No. 1 seed in our region in the playoffs and we're looking forward to that too."