Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian's Kyle Scales (17) center, celebrates his second quarter touchdown with teammates Peter Whiteneck (3) and Daniel Yoon (72) during Friday's game against Stone Mountain.
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NORCROSS -- Tim Hardy's first game as head coach of Greater Atlanta Christian may not have been the prettiest game he has ever seen, but the end result had him all smiles.
After opening up a 20-0 lead over Stone Mountain over Friday night, GAC soon had its hands full as the Pirates took advantage of two key turnovers to fight back, only to have the Spartans outlast the visitors for a 34-26 win.
"It looked like a first game at times and we made some mistakes that allowed (Stone Mountain) to get back in it," Hardy said, who came to GAC after spending the last three years at Mountain View. "Stone Mountain played hard and agressive but I am proud of how our guys fought back."
The Spartans got off to a good start with 10 points in each of the first two quarters, getting two touchdowns and two field goals.
The first score came off the foot of kicker Brandon Holzgrefe, who booted home a 31-yard field goal, while the first TD of the season came when quarterback Rafe Chapple connected with Darius Slayton on a 25-yard TD pass.
It was GAC's running game that added the second TD when Kyle Scales broke loose for a 20-yard run early in the second. Scales, who suffered a knee injury last season, showed no signs of the setback as he led the Spartans in rushing with 128 yards on 17 carries and one score.
"He is such a dynamic player," Hardy said of Scales. "He had been limited with the ACL injury from last year but was able to go full scale tonight."
Stone Mountain finally found some momentum on offense in the second quarter when quarterback Corderal Cook connected with Jacquaan Golden for a 50-yard completion to give the Pirates a first-and-10 from the GAC 19.
However, GAC's defense stiffened, eventually getting the ball back on downs when the Spartans stuffed running back Solomon Parker for no gain on fourth down. Paul Carothers and Price Roberts each came up with big plays during that last series with tackles for loss. Taking over on its own 12, things went South in a hurry for the Spartans when the ensuing snap rolled past Chapple into the end zone, where the GAC quarterback was able to smother it, resulting in a Pirate safety.
Stone Mountain took the ensuing kick and started with great field position at the Spartan 49 with 1:46 left before half, but couldn't take advantage when the drive's second play was picked off by GAC safety Darius Slayton.
Slayton pulled down Cook's pass around his own 25 and mounted a great return, nearly breaking it before being pulled down on the Pirate 24.
The Spartans were able to reach the Pirate 4-yard line but time nearly ran out, forcing the Spartans to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Brandon Holzgrefe, his second successful attempt of the first half.
with a 20-2 lead to start the second half, GAc looked in control but two key turnovers and the emergence of receiver Sammy Johnson soon brought the Pirates back.
GAC took the opening kick of the second half but muffed it, giving the Pirates the ball at the spartan 20. Five plays later, Parker bulled in from three yards out for Stone Mountain's first TD.
The Pirates then found its air game when its next three scores came from quarterback Cook to Johnson. Johnson hauled in just three passes on the night, but they were each for huge plays as he scored on each one for 25, 67 and 85 yards.
Johnson's heroics weren't enough, though, as GAC fought back in the fourth quarter, getting running TDs each from Chapple and Corey Stevenson.
"We play a lot of guys both ways but they're used to that," Hardy said. "They were able to sustain 48 minutes and stayed out there long enough to get the win."
Cook finished with 268 yards and three TDs on 8 of 16 passing but was hampered by two interceptions, one from Slayton and the other from Jonathan Pickens. His favorite target was Johnson, who had 177 yards and three TDs on three catches, while Golden caught three passes for 80 yards. Chapple had a solid night passing for GAC, getting 61 yards and one TD on 4 of 9 passes with no interceptions, while Stevenson finished with 42 yards and one TD 11 carries.