Special photo GAC quarterback Rafe Chapple is sacked by Lovett defenders in the Spartans 31-30 loss on Friday.
ATLANTA -- In a game as competitive as Friday night's Region 6-AA showdown between GAC and Lovett, it comes down to which team can execute the little things.
Ultimately, two big things in special teams -- a recovery of a popped up kickoff early in the third quarter and a blocked extra point with 4:09 remaining -- spelled the difference in the Lovett's 31-30 win at Conley-Oakley Field.
But in reality, there were plenty of other little things in every area of the game that helped the Lions (6-4, 4-0), who will host Coosa in the first round of the Class AA state playoffs next week, fend off GAC (7-3, 3-1) and deny the No. 8 state-ranked Spartans their first region championship since 2001.
"You win as a team, you lose as a team," said GAC coach Tim Hardy, whose team will host Model next week. "We had opportunities to make plays in all three phases of the game, and we didn't make enough plays. Football is a fair game. The team that makes more plays wins, and (Lovett) made more plays."
Both teams made plenty of big plays on offense.
GAC got 123 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries from Kyle Scales before the senior left the game after aggravating an ankle injury that has hobbled him the last few weeks in the fourth quarter, while Rafe Chapple threw two scoring passes to Peter Whiteneck.
But Lovett's Grant Haley countered with 102 yards and a TD on the ground and a 40-yard touchdown reception, while Willie Candler added 91 yards and a score on the ground and two TD passes.
But the two special teams plays came at critical times and had a major impact on the outcome.
The first came immediately after Candler capped a 12-play, 65-yard with a 12-yard scoring strike to Andrew Siegel to erase GAC's seven-point halftime lead and pull Lovett even at 17-17 with 5:46 left in the third quarter.
Lions kicker Brendan McGowen had been sending pop-up kickoffs to GAC the entire game, with the Spartans usually calling for a fair catch.
But this time, the senior found a hole in the GAC coverage, allowing Garrett Chapman a chance to pounce on the loose ball and give Lovett possession again at the Spartans' 23 after a personal foul penalty.
"We work on special teams almost as much as we work on offense and defense," Lovett coach Mike Muschamp said. "But to be honest with you, Brendan mis-hit the pooch kick. And it just went up and landed in a tough spot for any kind of return team, and we just got lucky enough to get the football."
It took the Lions just four plays to cash in, with Candler sneaking into the end zone from 2 yards out to give Lovett its first lead of the game at 24-17 with 4:14 left in the quarter.
But GAC twice fought back from deficits thanks to Chapple and Whiteneck.
First, the pair hooked up for a 49-yard TD pass on a third-and-12 play to knot the game at 24-all with 2:38 left in the third quarter.
Then, after Candler's 40-yard scoring strike to Haley put Lovett up 31-24 with 11:38 remaining, the pair came up with another clutch connection.
This time, Chapple found Whiteneck in the back of the end zone on fourth-down for a 6-yard touchdown to pull the Spartans to within 31-30 with 4:09 left to play.
"We kept fighting," Hardy said of his team.
But after GAC was penalized 5 yards for lining up offside, Haley and Corey Erdoe bolted through the line and each got a hand on the point after attempt, keeping the Lions in front by a point.
Still, with 4:09 left on the clock and two timeouts remaining, the Spartans had a chance.
However, Candler snuffed that chance out with a clutch 12-yard completion to Winn Martin on third and 8 from the GAC 34 with less than 2 minutes to play and the Spartans out of timeouts to pick up a first down and allow the Lions to run out the clock.
"They did a great job of running the football and controlling the clock," Hardy said of Lovett. "Again, when you win, you win in all phases. When you lose, you lose in all phases."