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GAC boys advance to state finals

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

NORCROSS -- It took nearly 60 minutes, but the frustration gave way to "so much relief" when Greater Atlanta Christian finally broke through against North Oconee.

The upstart Titans and their goalkeeper Jon Skinner had stopped an onslaught of shots in the first half and halfway through the second. But when GAC's Paul Ille took a throw-in that bounced off of Stewart Abrahart and scored with 20:41 remaining, Abrahart called it "so much relief."

The game-winning goal in an eventual 2-0 win for GAC in the Class AA state semifinals advanced the Spartans to the state championship game at home on Saturday night. GAC will play the winner of Cross Keys and Westminster.

"It was a little frustrating, but I knew it was going to come," Abrahart said. "That was our plan from the approach, we were going to attack them."

GAC (17-2) benefitted from a red card seven minutes earlier against North Oconee's best defender, Cody Clark. Clark tripped Ille at the corner of the box, and was given the Titans' first straight red of the season.

"That was huge," GAC coach Thom Jacquet said. "That big guy in the back. Every ball we'd toss in the back, he'd get to. When the smoke cleared, and I saw him walking off, I thought, 'That may be the difference right there.'"

That allowed the Spartans more space, and they tacked on an insurance goal when Abrahart buried one with 9:34 to play.

"It just came right out to me, and after I saw it going in, I don't even know what came over me," Abrahart said. "I think I blacked out. It was awesome."

It was the first time a team had scored more than one goal against the Titans (17-2) since Feb. 18, the third game of the season. Skinner was the backbone of the defense, and delivered a highlight-reel save on GAC striker Denzel Clarke with 11 minutes to play in the first half. Clarke had split two defenders, and was alone deep in the box, but Skinner swallowed the chance.

Most of the game seemed like just a matter of time before GAC converted, but Skinner stood tall. The Spartans outshot the Titans 15-2 in the first half, and had a 5-0 edge in corner kicks.

"I felt like we were in control of the game, we didn't really give them any chances," Jacquet said. "But the goals weren't coming. It's very difficult to stop us from scoring for 80 minutes, so we felt like we'd get one."

If GAC meets Westminster, it would be a rematch of their April 19 meeting at Westminster, a 3-2 GAC win when Clarke scored in overtime.

"Other than (North Oconee) from the start, that was the team I was planning on meeting in the finals," Abrahart said. "If we have another rematch, we'll just have to put our shots away."

The result extended GAC's winning streak to 17 games, and snapped North Oconee's at 12.