Spartans relish rare title chance tonight vs. Lovett

File Photo GAC's Kyle Scales runs the ball during the game against Wesleyan last week.

File Photo GAC's Kyle Scales runs the ball during the game against Wesleyan last week.

GAC at Lovett

GAC Spartans (6-AA)

Coach: Tim Hardy

Record: 7-2, 3-0 region

Last week: Beat Wesleyan 42-20

Lovett Lions (6-AA)

Coach: Mike Muschamp

Record: 5-4, 3-0 region

Last week: Beat Westminster 10-7

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: Lovett won 35-28 last year

Directions to Lovett School: I-285 west to I-75 south, exit on West Paces Ferry Road and turn right. Take a right at the traffic light onto Paces Ferry Road and school is on the right before the Chattahoochee River.

Over the years, Greater Atlanta Christian has played in plenty of big games.

However, it's been a while since the No. 8 state-ranked Spartans have really faced the kind of opportunity in front of them when they head to Conley-Oakley Field in Atlanta to take on Lovett Friday at 7:30.

Sure, a lot was on the line when GAC fell to Lovett by a touchdown on the same field this time last year, which shockingly dropped the Spartans out of the state playoffs despite an 8-2 record.

This time, both teams come into Friday's game with not only a postseason berth already secure, but a chance to claim the Region 6-AA championship.

In GAC's (7-2, 3-0) case, it would be their first since 2001, a fact definitely on their players' minds.

"We're excited," Spartans coach Tim Hardy said. "We're calling it 'Championship Week.' It's sort of how you'd want the region schedule to unfold when you make it up. It's fun for us. It's fun for (Lovett). We're trying to do something that hasn't been done at GAC in 11 years. So, while it's nice to know there will be a next week (win or lose), we're excited about the opportunity to win a region championship."

The Spartans also have every right to be excited about the way they are playing heading into Friday's matchup off three straight wins.

The last of those came in last week's 42-20 win over Wesleyan in which leading rusher Kyle Scales (158 car., 937 yards., 14 TDs) was limited due to an injury.

But the Spartans got a big night through the air from quarterback Rafe Chapple and receivers Peter Whiteneck and Chris Williams to rally in the second half for the victory.

And Scales is expected to be back at or near full strength Friday, which Hardy knows will be a plus against a tough Lovett defense.

"Defensively, they're a pressure team," Hardy said of the Lions (5-4, 3-0). "They have a nice linebacking corps, and they're very physical. They come at you from all different angles."

Lovett also has similar weapons to GAC on the offensive side, particularly quarterback Willie Candler and running back Grant Haley, who have each come up with late fourth-quarter scores over the last two weeks that lifted the Lions to come-from-behind wins over Wesleyan and Westminster.

"Their quarterback and tailback are both excellent runners," Hardy said. "They make a lot of things happen."

Both teams will have to find a way to make things happen Friday, but both have shown the ability to do so against stiff competition.

With Region 6-AA only having five overall teams, every one of its members had to seek a lot of non-region games, and both GAC and Lovett loaded up theirs with big-time opposition to prepare themselves for games like this. The Spartans' pre-region slate consisted of five teams from higher classifications -- including Class AAA's top-ranked team in Thomson, plus a one-loss AAAA team in Chamblee -- as well as a team from Tennessee, while Lovett has faced four state-ranked teams.

"We don't have large numbers, but the quality of the teams in our region is high," Hardy said. "Like us, (Lovett is) battle tested. No doubt, they'll be prepared. It all comes to a head (tonight)."