NORCROSS - With the schools located just nine miles apart along I-85, Greater Atlanta Christian and St. Pius could become a nice little football rivalry.
"I hope so," first-year GAC coach Ken Robinson.
For now, though, larger St. Pius has the upper hand.
The visiting Golden Lions, ranked No. 4 in Class AAA, took charge in the second half Friday night and won the first meeting between the two private schools 31-10 a near-capacity crowd at Spartans Stadium.
The non-region game turned dramatically when St. Pius blocked consecutive third-quarter punts, cashing in both for touchdowns.
"Special-team plays can change momentum and turn games around quickly," Robinson said. "That's obviously what happened."
Brian Gee blocked both kicks, with GAC punter Robert Boccolucci the victim of a high snap each time.
"(Gee) had a great break on the ball, especially on the second one," St. Pius coach Paul Standard said. "He came close to getting to the punter in the first half."
Cole Moon scored after both blocks and added another TD in the fourth quarter as St. Pius (2-0) broke away from a 10-all tie at halftime.
The Golden Lions got the ball at the GAC 33 after the first block and pushed it into the end zone in seven plays, with Moon banging in from the 1-yard line with 4:31 left in the third quarter.
On Gee's second block, Andrew Butler picked up the ball and rumbled to GAC's 11. Moon carried twice, scoring from the 6-yard line with 2:12 left in the period.
With GAC's defense tiring, St. Pius put the victory away by driving 81 yards in 15 plays - all outside veers - to begin the fourth quarter. Moon, a junior fullback, barged in from the 1.
"Our offensive line took over," said Standard, a former Dacula and Meadowcreek assistant.
The loss dropped GAC to an 0-2 start for the first time since 1993, but that is more a product of the Spartans' difficult non-region schedule than anything else.
GAC lost 17-14 at Hart County on a last-second field goal in its opener and has a tough game with Tennessee power Baylor Prep next Friday before beginning Region 6-AA play.
"We have some things to correct," Robinson said. "But we'll do that. There are a lot of games left and these losses don't mean we aren't going to make the playoffs."
GAC held St. Pius to three first downs in the first half and the Golden Lions' only score came on a long pass play. But St. Pius took charge after halftime, finishing with 233 yards rushing.
Quarterback P.G. Standard, the coach's son, had 86 yards on 11 carries, while Moon got 60 of his 69 yards in the second half.
GAC, making a gamble pay off, went for a touchdown rather than a field goal and tied the game 19 seconds before halftime. On fourth-and-3 from the 9-yard, Colton Chapple faked a handoff and hit tight end Corey Simmons, who was wide open in the end zone.
The TD pass completed a 61-yard, 10-play drive that was set up when GAC linebacker Blake Southerland stripped the ball from Moon and recovered the fumble himself. Boccolucci kicked the extra point to make it 10-10.
St. Pius had taken the lead 14 seconds into the second quarter. Matt Pierce got behind the GAC secondary on a third-down play, hauled in a perfect pass from Standard and ran the final 15 yards for the 59-yard TD play.
It was Standard's only completion of the game. He threw just three times, none in the second half.
The teams traded field goals in the first period. Boccolucci connected from 37 yards out on GAC's opening possession and St. Pius' Joey Gargiuto was true from 40 yards shortly afterwards following a 59-yard kickoff return by Jonathan Carter.
Chapple was 11-for-26 for 98 yards, with an interception. Greg Bradley was GAC's leading rusher with 50 yards in 11 carries.
St. Pius, which reached the Class AAAA semifinals in 2006 and the quarterfinals last year, is 56-27 in Standard's eighth season and has 21 players from Gwinnett County - five of which are starters.
That certainly adds to the potential rivalry between GAC and the nearby DeKalb County school.
"We're so close and the schools are so similar in a lot of ways," Standard said. "I'd like to see us play every year."
"This could be a nice rivalry," Robinson said.
Right now, St. Pius is enjoying it the most, however.