NORCROSS - His face bright red, Eddie Martin called on all his emotion and coaching experience in an attempt to invigorate his struggling team.
The Greater Atlanta Christian boys trailed visiting Chattooga by seven points going into the fourth quarter and it looked like the No. 2-ranked Spartans were headed to an early exit from the Class AA state tournament.
"That's the most intense I've ever seen him," Elliott Long said of his coach. "He told us we had to step up or the season was going to be over."
Long stepped up in a way even his coach couldn't have expected with a fourth quarter to remember and GAC (27-3) is headed to the state quarterfinals after a 73-70 comeback victory Wednesday night over a lighting-quick Chattooga team that took it to the bigger Spartans.
Long, a 6-foot-4 junior, scored 16 of his game-high 26 points in the final period. Six of those came in the final minute, including four straight free throws. His two foul shots with 40.5 seconds remaining put GAC ahead, then he hit two more with 24.6 seconds left.
Chattooga (21-5) had two chances to tie the game with a 3-pointer, but Rashad Ramsey's last-second try hit off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
The emotional Spartans celebrated at midcourt, then with their jubilant fans at the Long Forum. Their hearts broken, the Indians could just walk to their locker room in silence.
"I'm so proud of these kids," said Martin, who took over at GAC this season after leading Norcross to three consecutive Class AAAAA state titles. "They just wouldn't quit.
"This has to be up there with the most emotional games I can remember. It definitely has to be in the top five."
"Give GAC credit," Chattooga coach Lamar Turner said. "Especially that No. 33. We didn't know anything about him, but he had a great fourth quarter."
Long had just four points at halftime before starting to heat up in the third quarter with six points and then going wild in the final period.
"Coach told me to take it to the basket and I did," Long said. "It didn't look real good there for awhile, but we didn't quit. We kept fighting, just like coach told us."
With point guard Paul Dawson out after drawing a technical for his fifth foul, Taylor Metzger - GAC's lone senior - also had an important role in the fourth-quarter rally. He made several big steals and scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
"That was way too close," Metzger said. "But now we get the team we wanted next."
GAC will play Coosa in the quarterfinals on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in the Rome Forum. Coosa, just 14-15 this season, ousted the Spartans from the state tournament last year.
"Everyone still has a bitter taste from that," Long said.
Trent Wiedeman, GAC's standout 6-foot-7 junior, scored 22 points, with 14 coming in the first half. He and Long each had nine rebounds.
The Indians led 53-46 after three quarters and were still up by five points late in the game.
"That's as quick a team as you'll see," Martin said.
But GAC survived, stretching its winning streak to 20 games and keeping Martin unbeaten in the state tournament since 2005.
"I've coached a lot of games," Martin said. "But this was definitely one to remember."