ATLANTA -- If this was a preview of the state championship game, it only proved the difference between these soccer teams is a sliver.
For now, Greater Atlanta Christian can celebrate a Region 6-AA championship, thanks to two goals from Denzel Clarke in a 3-2 overtime victory at Westminster on Tuesday. The Spartans didn't hold the lead until Clarke's game-winner with 3:51 left in the first overtime period. GAC had answered both Westminster goals as the teams combined for four in the first half.
GAC extended its winning streak to 13 games. The Spartans haven't lost since Feb. 17.
The much-anticipated game between the top-ranked teams in Class AA lived up to the hype. And it had many expecting a rematch with a bigger trophy at stake.
"Oh yeah," Clarke said. "This is definitely a preview."
Added Westminster coach Scott Snyder, "That'd be nice, except we'd be coming to their place next time."
To score the game-winner, Clarke received a free kick from Kyle Rees about 40 yards away from the goal.
"We practice that all of the time," Clarke said. "Coach expected us to be well-prepared for that, and all he asked of us was to follow through. It's our job, just doing my job and trying to do what the team needs me to do."
In a fast-paced first half, the Wildcats used an aggressive style to take the upper hand. The game featured seven yellow cards, and both teams played with championship intensity.
Westminster (14-3, 7-1) opened the scoring less than five minutes in on a goal by Paul Vicinanza after the ball pinballed between GAC defenders and Westminster's Jack Kidd. But the Spartans (12-2, 8-0) answered 12 minutes later when Stewart Abrahart extended his left leg while falling down deep in the box off of a throw-in by Jimmy Stahlke.
Westminster's Tyler Hilliard then converted a penalty kick with 13 minutes left in the first half after he was pulled down in the box by GAC goalkeeper Marius Heislitz. Then Stahlke used another throw-in to feed Paul Ille who drew two defenders then passed to Clarke for a point-blank goal.
"Getting the goal back was good, and then getting the second goal back, we're like, 'OK, we're fine,'" GAC coach Thom Jacquet said. "'We know there are goals in the game and neither team was going to out-class the other. It was just going to be a fight."
But after several minor injuries and muscle cramps to the Wildcats, Snyder dropped another player into the midfield as the hosts switched to a conservative attack.
Jacquet told his players after the game that they delivered on a goal they set last May when the schedule was released. The win also gives GAC home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
"That was the big carrot in today's game," Jacquet said. "It wasn't necessarily winning the championship, it was getting the seed that we wanted to get."