ATLANTA -- For Greater Atlanta Christian the task was simple: win and advance to the playoffs or lose and go home. The task proved anything but simple.
GAC fought hard, but fell to Lovett 35-28 Friday night thanks to a 56-yard touchdown pass late in the game that ended the Spartans' playoffs hopes following a promising regular season.
"No loss is easy, it is a hard loss," GAC head coach Tim Cokely said. "We got in the red zone three times and don't score, that's the difference in the game."
For Lovett, running back Grant Haley was the difference, scoring on two touchdown runs, a pass and a kick return.
After a failed fourth-down conversion by GAC, Haley started out to the right, broke a tackle and scampered down the left sideline for the first score of the game. It was a sign of things to come.
GAC looked to answer on its next possession, but Lavondre Nelson was stuffed at the Lovett 1-yard-line on a fourth-down attempt, one of the aforementioned red zone failures.
The GAC defense stiffened after the opening score, forcing Lovett into consecutive three-and-out possessions, the second of which gave the Spartans possession in Lovett territory following a punt.
GAC took advantage of the field position as Delano Spencer, who passed for 168 yards on 15 completions, took the snap from the shotgun position and ran through the right side for a 12-yard score that tied the game at seven.
The GAC defense continued its stellar play as Lovett ran just two plays in GAC territory in the quarter.
Though it did not register a sack in the opening half, the GAC defensive line did a great job of closing running lanes and pressuring Lovett quarterback Willie Chandler.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the half, Lovett faked a punt that failed as the receiver of the trick pass was stopped short of the first down.
With just 12 seconds remaining in the half, GAC looked to run out the clock with a Nelson run to the right to end the half. However, Nelson broke four tackles, including a diving leg tackle around the 20-yard line, to stun the crowd and give GAC a 14-7 advantage heading into the half.
GAC held Lovett to 39 passing yards and 125 total yards in the first half.
Haley struck again in the third quarter, following a GAC pass interference penalty that kept the drive alive, with a 47-yard touchdown run that pulled Lovett within one.
Nelson, who ran for 160 yards on 18 carries, capped a long drive with a 14-yard TD run to extend the lead.
The edge was short-lived as Haley found the end zone again, this time on an 84-yard kickoff return, that saw him weave through tacklers and outrun a defender down the sideline. Both teams traded scores, the last coming on a halfback pass by Haley, who found Chandler in the corner of the end zone for the tie.
GAC was forced to punt to Lovett with a little more than two minutes left in the game and seemed primed to get the ball back with Lovett facing a third-and-17 at its own 44, but Chandler found John Jameson down the sideline for the winning 56-yard score that would break the Spartans as its final drive ended on an interception.
"Big players make plays, they made one more play than us," Cokely said.