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It's just 'Round 4' at GAC

Photo: Craig Cappy GAC's Micah Abernathy (4) runs the ball out of bounds after his run in Friday's game. He is defended by Early County's Laversay Taylor (17).

Photo: Craig Cappy GAC's Micah Abernathy (4) runs the ball out of bounds after his run in Friday's game. He is defended by Early County's Laversay Taylor (17).

GAC AT JEFFERSON

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Jefferson High School (Take I-85 north to exit 137 toward Jefferson/Gainesville. Turn right on Ga.-11 and left on Ga.-11 business. School on right.)

Coaches: Tim Hardy, GAC; T. McFerrin, Jefferson

Records: GAC 10-3; Jefferson 12-1

Last week: GAC beat Early County 27-24; Jefferson beat 53-51 in 3 OT

Winner plays: Lamar County-Calhoun winner

GAC leaders:

Rushing: Kyle Scales, 1,311 yards

Micah Abernathy, 501 yards

Passing: Rafe Chapple, 2,279 yards

Receiving: Peter Whiteneck, 906 yards

Tackles: Paul Carothers and Trevor Dedecker, 54

Interceptions: Ross Wood and Darius Slayton, 5

Sacks: Jake Rose, 3

Game-by-game: GAC Spartans (10-3)

Stone Mountain W 34-26

Savannah W 31-8

at Apalachee W 31-21

Chamblee L 27-24

(overtime)

at Howard W 42-20

Thomson L 36-27

Westminster W 30-0

at Hapeville W 38-20

Wesleyan W 42-20

at Lovett L 31-30

Model W 35-6

at Heard Co. W 52-21

Early County W 27-24

Jefferson Dragons (12-1)

at Commerce L 22-7

Jackson County W 28-6

at North Hall W 27-21

at Greene Co. W 62-26

Wash.-Wilkes W 31-0

at Rabun Co. W 55-7

Oglethorpe Co. W 43-0

at Social Circle W 47-10

at Riverside W 35-7

Union County W 42-7

Kendrick W 42-8

Westminster W 35-7

Fitzgerald W 53-51

(triple overtime)

NORCROSS -- In the midst of an historic playoff run, the Spartans' practice Monday for their State Class AA semifinal matchup against Jefferson looked like any other football practice.

There was no extra shouting. No reminders of the gravity of the upcoming game, of the potential trip to the Georgia Dome or loud noises to simulate the visiting crowd the Spartans will face tonight.

No, they just practiced like always.

"We just talk about Round 1, Round 2, Round 3 and Round 4. This isn't a semifinal game, it's Round 4," first-year GAC head coach Tim Hardy said. "That's all we need to think about. We don't need to focus on what this could mean, afterward. Just focus on the right now and afterward will take care of itself."

And with the business-like attitude at practice, it appears the Spartans believe what Hardy is preaching. And why not? This approach led the Spartans to this game in a playoff run that's seen high-scoring wins and a narrow victory last week against Early County.

"We've tried to be very even-keel," Hardy said. "We have good players and have mature players that understand the importance of preparation.

"We've played well the last couple of weeks because we've focused specifically on the week at hand, the round at hand and the task at hand. We've been able to execute well."

Hardy mostly dismisses the surprise nature of his team's maturity after it began the season with just three returning starters, a new coaching staff and without any real playoff experience.

"We've grown up quite a bit. I am very pleased," Hardy said. "The whole story of our season is a story of team. When a group comes together they are greater than they are by themselves."

The group narrative fits for the Spartans, who have a 1,300-yard rusher in Kyle Scales, a quarterback in Rafe Chapple who's thrown for more than 2,200 yards and a pair of receivers in Peter Whiteneck and Chris Williams with more than 500 yards receiving.

Some games they ride their running game. Others, it's the passing game. And the defense has been steady all season.

"We really believe in the ability to be balanced," Hardy said. "We've shown that consistently this year."

They'll need it all tonight against a 12-1 Jefferson team coached by former South Gwinnett coach T. McFerrin.

It's McFerrin's fourth year leading the Dragons and the team has reached the playoffs in three of those four seasons, including an undefeated regular season in 2009.

This team, with its spread attack, relies first on its quarterback and senior returning starter Bryant Shirreffs.

"He's a dynamic player," Hardy said. "He's utilized well in the things they ask him to do and he just makes plays. It starts with him, offensively, and it spills from there."

Shirreffs leads an offense that hasn't scored less than 30 points since week three and a team that lost its opener and has won 12-straight games.

"The thing that jumps out to me is there aren't what I would call weak spots," Hardy said. "All their players are physical, they tackle well, block well, run well. They know where they are supposed to be."

That's the McFerrin influence and the biggest challenge facing the Spartans. That, and another road trip, this time north, to face another high-scoring offense.

But the win over Heard County two weeks ago in as hostile an environment as a visitor could face, gives the Spartans solace that they can overcome the external challenges.

They've done it all year. They just have to do it in Round 4.

"Our players really believe in each other as a group and trust themselves and have worked extremely hard to be prepared to do what they've needed to do," Hardy said.

"The focus right now needs to be a laser-like focus on preparation and on the performance on Friday night."