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GAC vs. Wesleyan rivalry renewed

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman -- Jaye Rochell makes a catch during the Wolves' game against Westminster last month.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman -- Jaye Rochell makes a catch during the Wolves' game against Westminster last month.

Wesleyan at GAC

Wesleyan Wolves (6-AA)

Coach: Franklin Pridgen

Record: 4-5, 1-2 region

Last week: Lost to Lovett 24-21

GAC Spartans (6-AA)

Coach: Tim Hardy

Record: 6-2, 2-0 region

Last week: Beat Hapeville Charter 38-20

Last meeting: GAC won 24-0 in 2007

Directions to Greater Atlanta Christian School: From I-85, go east on Indian Trail Road and school is on the right

The last time Greater Atlanta Christian and Wesleyan played each other in football, Spartans head coach Tim Hardy wasn't even living in Georgia.

Hardy was an assistant at Wheaton College in Chicago when the two teams last played 2007.

"I've known him since he's been at Wheaton and recruited our area," Wesleyan head coach Franklin Pridgen said of Hardy. "I admire him. It's just a great fit. His kids play hard and keep it simple.

Hardy is in his first year as GAC's head coach and will get his first taste of the battle of the Norcross private schools on Friday night.

"It's the renewal of a traditional rivalry," Hardy said. "It's good for the players and the schools."

GAC and Wesleyan are separated by five miles and in the past they've routinely met to decide region and state championships in various sports in Class AA.

"Obviously, they are located in Norcross and have similar schools," Hardy said. "Both are pretty close to each other, so people know each other."

Wesleyan moved down to Class A after the 2007-08 school year. The Wolves' football team won a state championship in 2008 and was 44-8 over a four-year run in Class A. Wesleyan moved back to Class AA this season and the rivalry with GAC was reborn.

"I don't know if it's a rivalry for two reasons," Pridgen said. "We haven't played them in a while and when we did we only beat them once. Both teams need to have success for it to be a rivalry. I would like for it to become one. We're going to have to play great football."

GAC is 7-1 all-time against Wesleyan. Both teams are back in the five-team Region 6-AA and have qualified for the playoffs. The Spartans are two wins away from winning their first region title since 2001.

"There's four region games and this is No. 3. They all are important," Hardy said.

Wesleyan needs a win tonight and some help to avoid being the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and facing defending state champion Calhoun in the first round.

"It's not beyond the realm of possibility," Pridgen said.

GAC is led by running back Kyle Scales, who has 886 yards rushing and 14 TDs.

"They are very athletic," Pridgen said. "They have a great line of scrimmage and a great back. He's an explosive back."

Wesleyan quarterback Will Anderson is one of the top passers in the state in Class AA. The senior has thrown for 1,943 yards and 18 TDs this season. Jahmai Jones is his leading receiver with 56 catches for 947 yards. Jones' older brother Central grad Malachi set the county single season reception record last year with 82 catches.

"Offensively, their quarterback does a nice job throwing the football," Hardy said. "He has nice players to get the ball to."

Wesleyan has one of the smallest enrollments for a AA school. Despite the low numbers, the Wolves have managed to hang with some of the top teams in the state. A five-team region forced Wesleyan and GAC to play bigger schools in non-region games.

Wesleyan (4-5) has defeated Class AAAAA's Salem and Class AAAA's Stone Mountain. However, recent losses to Westminster and Lovett in region play have dropped the Wolves to the No. 4 spot in playoff seeding.

"We're playing the best football right now if you look at the whole body of work, but we have to cut down on mistakes," Pridgen said. "We're playing better every week, but it's not showing on the scoreboard."

GAC (6-2) has losses to No. 2 ranked Thomson in Class AAA and undefeated Chamblee in Class AAAA. But it holds wins over Class AAAAA's Apalachee and Stone Mountain.

"There's a lot of excitement because it's local and our kids know their kids," Pridgen said.