Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian running back Kyle Scales (17) runs the ball against Buford.
A play-in game precisely describes what tonight is for GAC.
The one-loss Spartans travel to Lovett for the Region 6-AA play-in game, battling for the No. 3 seed. If they lose, the season ends.
It's worth repeating.
"If we win we go to the playoffs, if we lose we go home," said head coach Tim Cokely.
The Spartans find themselves in this playoffs-came-early situation because of a loss to unbeaten and top-ranked Buford. It's their only loss, but it dropped them to No. 2 in their 6-AA subregion. Buford plays for the region championship, GAC plays for its season. It's a fine line with a subregion schedule.
"The truth is you have to win," Cokely said. "You have to win to advance. When you are playing region games during the year, they are playoff games, too. Hopefully we prepare for all of our opponents the same."
And all this is fine with Cokely and the Spartans. It's better to play meaningful games in Week 10 than just play one last game.
"It's more fun to play in these games," Cokely said. "I think games should mean something. I wish we were playing for a region championship, but we didn't beat Buford. Just the fact that this game means something is exciting in itself."
Whatever GAC's preparation each week it's worked. In building its 8-1 record, the Spartans racked up more than 40 points in five straight weeks, including a 69-31 win over subregion No. 3 Decatur, another team playing for a playoff spot tonight. They found a good quarterback system, running in three early on before Parkview transfer Delano Spencer started to take most of the snaps.
Spencer is in the top-15 in the county with 821 yards passing and 13 touchdowns for the Spartans.
"A lot of guys have really stepped up," Cokely said.
They'll need them all tonight at Lovett. The 6-3 Lions have not been as prolific an offensive team as GAC, but Cokely knows not to underestimate head coach Mike Muschamp's schemes, which range from a spread attack to a single wing.
"They have a very athletic team and have had a lot of success in the last several years," Cokely said. "This is my second year in the region and I have learned quickly that Lovett is a team that is very well coached and very athletic."
And Cokely hasn't even faced Lovett.
GAC's defense does boast two of the county's most effective pass rushers in Tony Jones (9 sacks) and an improving linebacker in DaSean Daniels.
As he prepared for the must-win game, the first thing the offensive-minded Cokely saw in Lovett was the Lions hold Buford to one touchdown in the first half. But along with Spencer, the offensive line, led by center Tate Cooksey, keeps improving and takes pride in being Spartans.
"All these guys have been at GAC their whole life," Cokely said. "They grew up watching Spartan football."
And Spartan football, especially in recent years, means playoff football. To do that, they must win tonight.
"Our guys are excited," Cokely said. "We just have one game between us and the playoffs."