Spartans return to Dome this weekend

A few Greater Atlanta Christian players may remember the football team's last game at the Georgia Dome, but if they do, head coach Tim Cokely hasn't heard about it.

It's more likely that very few Spartans recall that game nine years ago, a state semifinal win over Early County, so Saturday night's game against Westminster will be a new experience for everyone. The 5 p.m. matchup is part of the Great American Football Classic, which concludes with an 8 p.m. game between Central Gwinnett and South Gwinnett.

"There's a lot of excitement in the community about this game," said Cokely, in his second year at GAC. "I don't think the coaches are excited as the kids. We just want to execute and play well. But it's exciting, especially for kids who grew up around here, in Georgia and in Atlanta. To play in the Dome is a big deal for them."

Getting to play in the Dome is a rarity for a Class AA team like GAC. It required making the state semifinals for years (the Spartans played there in 1997 and 2002 semifinals) and now AA teams have to make the championship game to play in the home of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons since the Corky Kell Classic typically features only AAAAA teams.

But the latest showcase event in the Dome will give GAC and Region 6-AA rival Westminster a rare chance to play there.

"I've coached a lot of games in a lot of places," Cokely said. "Playing in the Florida panhandle, we played in stadiums so small you had to dress in the woods. That's the truth. We played in bigger stadiums, too, like (Florida State's) Doak Campbell Stadium, and all those big games are similar because you've got to remind the kids why they're there.

"You kind of use the same speech every time. If you want to come see the building and look around the Georgia Dome, come back for a Falcons game."

When the initial awe of being on the Dome floor subsides, it's safe to say GAC will be focused on Westminster, which has become one of its better rivals over the years. The Spartans got the better of it in the early 2000s, but they've lost three straight years to the Wildcats.

Westminster has made the playoffs four straight years under longtime head coach Gerry Romberg.

"Westminster's like they always are, they're a really athletic team and they play a lot of guys," Cokely said. "They're deep at every position. And they've strung together several years of winning records and deep playoff runs."

GAC had the same tradition, one that Cokely is doing his best to restore. His first Spartan team went 9-3 and lost 21-7 to loaded Carver-Columbus in the second round of the playoffs.

This year's group is 3-0 and coming off a 48-14 dismantling of previously unbeaten Holy Innocents'. Lavondre Nelson and Kyle Scales have emerged as the Spartans' playmakers, while they've rotated Delano Spencer, David McTier and Jared Chapple at the quarterback spot.

Spencer had the most success in last week's win, but Cokely isn't committed to one QB yet.

"It just depends (if we'll rotate QBs frequently), I coach that situation by feel," Cokely said.