Just three weeks into the 2023 football season, things looked extremely bleak for Bill Sochovka’s Pine Forest Trojans.
After games with eventual state playoff qualifiers Cape Fear, Seventy-First and Gray’s Creek, the Trojans were 0-3 and had an average losing margin of 32 points per game.
To say they managed to rebound is an understatement.
The Trojans went 6-1 the rest of the season and wound up capturing their third consecutive conference title.
They open the state playoffs Friday night at home against Wilmington Ashley.
So how did Sochovka reassemble the Pine Forest puzzle into a winner?
It started during summer practice, when Sochovka decided to make some changes in the Pine Forest defensive scheme. Unfortunately, when the season began, it soon became apparent the players and coaches did not know what they were trying to do.
But Sochovka said it went beyond drawing schemes on a blackboard.
“We were not a team,” he said. “We were very selfish. We were more worried about our stats. That was evident in the Gray’s Creek game at the end.”
Sochovka said the loss did not upset him. It was the attitude the players had. It was time for them to get behind each other.
“You can’t play football by yourself,” he said. “You’ve got to have 11 players committed to the same goals all the time.”
The team turned an important corner when it got its first win of the season, beating Westover.
“We had a lot of guys stepping up who helped us later on,” he said. “It was pretty much staying calm, refocusing them, not letting them think that it’s over. If anything, you have a whole season to go.”
Two key personnel moves were taking Jamari Jones from defense and moving him to running back and putting Nyzir Bostic at quarterback. The latter gave the Trojans a true run-pass option at quarterback that caused defenses headaches.
“He had big games when we needed them, against Terry Sanford and Overhills,” Sochovka said of Bostic.
In the win against Overhills last week, Bostic rushed nine times for 114 yards and four touchdowns. He completed five of seven passes for another 131 yards and two scores.
Bostic said the Trojan turnaround came down to getting the team’s momentum back and improving communication.
“Everybody was coachable,” he said. “We were all on the same page. We started clicking.”
Even though Pine Forest faces an unfamiliar playoff foe in Ashley, Bostic said three straight conference titles have allowed the Trojan veterans to be prepared for any possible surprises in the postseason.
“We see what’s coming,” he said. “We know what to expect. We know going to the playoffs we’re not going to play any trash team.
“We’re going to be ready for it.”
Sochovka said at this stage of the season, strategy is less important than having a team that wants to practice not just to stay sharp but to win.
“The key for us is we’ve got to make sure we take care of business,” he said.
In the 4-A tournament at Pinehurst No. 6, Pine Forest’s Alexis Paquin turned in the lowest score among the county contingent with an 83-87-170.
The 3-A tournament was held at Foxfire Resort Red Course.
Kate Wilson of Cape Fear had the low round among county golfers with a 90-95-185.
Teammate Gracey Horne shot 94-101-195.
Charlize Carr of Terry Sanford had a 102-96-198.
Abbey Bullard of Cape Fear shot 117-108-225.
As a team, Cape Fear shot 301-304-605.
Pine Forest head coach Bill Sochovka will be head coach of the East team, with Terry Sanford assistant coach Jeff Morehead serving on the East staff.
County players chosen include Rico McDonald and Landon Sargent of Cape Fear, Juan Hernandez of Pine Forest and Kamal Thames of Terry Sanford.
Tickets to the game are available at https://gofan.co/event/1188054?schoolId-NC86378.
This week’s picks
Last week’s record was 4-2, putting the score for the season at 56-17, or 76.7%.
Now to the challenge of trying to correctly predict state playoff outcomes:
Western Alamance at Cape Fear: The Colts enter the postseason on a hot streak … Cape Fear 28, Western Alamance 12.
Terry Sanford at Vance County: Vance County gets the edge at home … Vance County 28, Terry Sanford 26.
Triton at Seventy-First: The Falcons are looking to be in the postseason for a while … Seventy-First 30, Triton 12.
Fuquay-Varina at Jack Britt: Britt wins a close one … Jack Britt 14, Fuquay-Varina 12.
South View at Clayton: The Tigers have their hands full … Clayton 29, South View 6.
Gray’s Creek at Cleveland: A tough one for the Bears … Cleveland 39, Gray’s Creek 6.