The Knights seek their first playoff berth since 2010, and only their second ever, as they try to build off a 5-5 campaign. That was on the heels of a 9-2 season in 2010, when the Knights earned their first postseason appearance in only their third year of varsity football.
“We were happy with how we played and how we got better, but we want to get back to the playoffs,” Pace coach Matt Hall said. “I think we were playing our best football at the end of the year.”
Now in its fifth year, Pace, for so long never associated with football, is trying to make the sport part of its athletic identity, not just a new diversion.
“We haven’t quite established that next wave of players that walk into the high school that freshman year and have a real football mentality,” Hall said. “A lot of it is coaching and teaching and getting guys where they need to [be].”
If their offensive production continues the way it has, that could very well happen. Pace’s three-headed monster once again consists of quarterback Kevin Johnson, running back Denzel Franklin and wide receiver Kameron Uter, who all put up outstanding numbers a season ago to lead the Knights to 24.3 points per game.
Johnson took the starting job as a freshman in the second game and completed 137 of 247 passes for 1,794 yards and 18 touchdowns. Uter caught 47 passes for 790 yards and eight scores, and Franklin was a monster out of the backfield with 1,513 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 153 carries, nearly a first down per touch. Franklin suffered a concussion in a win over Fellowship Christian Oct. 28 and was held out of Pace’s region play-in game against First Presbyterian Day, which the Knights lost to end their season.
“We pride ourselves on being pretty balanced and being able to take what the defense gives us,” Hall said. “With a returner like Denzel back, we’d like to be able to run the football.”
Tight end Reid Williams and receivers Tiger Brown and Jeffrey Jones add depth to the passing game, and Jordan Schuchmann returns at guard to bolster what will be a young offensive line.
Franklin also starred on defense last season at linebacker and will move to safety, and Brown has generated college interest with his talents at cornerback. Osei Avril will return as one of Pace’s key linebackers.
The Knights remained in Region 5-A after the reclassification but has one of the state’s most difficult slates with 2011 ranked teams like Landmark Christian, Holy Innocents’ and Eagle’s Landing Christian scheduled for three consecutive weeks in the second half of the season.
“The rest of our schedule is not easy,” Hall said. “We scheduled four really good opponents [pre-region], teams that are going to give us a good edge as we get into region play.”
Aug. 31 Whitefield Academy
Sept. 7 at Athens Academy
Sept. 14 at King’s Ridge Christian
Sept. 21 First Presbyterian Day
Sept. 28 Our Lady of Mercy*
Oct. 5 at Strong Rock Christian*
Oct. 19 Landmark Christian*
Oct. 27 at Holy Innocents’*
Nov. 2 Eagle’s Landing Christian*
Nov. 10 at Mount Vernon Presbyterian*
*denotes region game