NORCROSS - What started to look like another easy win for top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian turned into a game with a wild finish that cost the Spartans severely.
GAC defeated No. 8 Fellowship Christian 4-2 on Wednesday in the second round of the Class AA/A boys soccer playoffs, but now faces the next two rounds without star forward Sam Arthur. The South Carolina signee received a second-half red card after an argument with the referee that will force him to miss the defending state runner-up's quarterfinal and semifinal games.
The Spartans host overmatched Toombs County Friday in the quarterfinals, but will face a much tougher test in the semifinals vs. either No. 2 Walker or No. 7 Savannah Christian.
"It just takes away from everything," GAC boys coach Thom Jacquet said of the red card. "I'm not thinking about hey we won, hey we're going on. I'm thinking about (the red card)."
GAC (18-2) jumped ahead 3-0 in the first half with goals in the 10th, 25th and 31st minutes. Arthur scored the first, Chris Thomas the second and Richard Klemm the third.
But Fellowship's Zack Johnson scored on a header just before halftime for a tally that totally energized his team.
"The goal (Fellowship) scored late in the (first) half was big," Jacquet said. "They really didn't have a shot at anything until then. Even in the second half we had 10 good chances, we just could never get a good foot on the ball."
Witt Carlisle's goal got Fellowship (13-4) within 3-2, but Arthur assisted a Thomas goal in the 62nd minute to put GAC back up 4-2. Then the game got out of control with a second half that saw the teams total six yellow cards and Arthur's red card.
Only three minutes after GAC's fourth goal, Arthur got into a shoving match with a Paladin defender.
He got a yellow card and the Fellowship player didn't, and he expressed his dissension to the referee as he walked off the field.
The referee then followed Arthur to the sidelines, signaled for the red card and had GAC coaches escort him from the field.
"He's not had a problem all year with that," Jacquet said of his captain. "He's been unbelievably good."
GAC was forced to play the remainder with 10 players and in the 76th minute, Fellowship scored a goal to get within 4-3.
But as the teams prepared to kick off, the game officials noticed that there were 12 Paladins on the field to GAC's 10. That wiped away the goal Fellowship just scored and ended the visitors' comeback hopes.
GAC outshot the Paladins 16-4 and took 11 corner kicks, but Fellowship goalkeeper Josh Middleton had 12 saves.