FRANKLIN -- In the first half, one defensive stop played like a touchdown.
The first six possessions in GAC's Class AA football playoff matchup at Heard Country resulted in touchdowns with both teams treating the game as defense optional.
But on its fourth try, GAC finally squeezed a punt out of the big-play Braves' offense.
It was a three-and-out, aided by a dropped pass on third down that would have set up a fourth-and-2 and a likely Heard County attempt to keep the drive alive. But the Braves punted and GAC answered with its fourth straight touchdown and the Spartans rode that momentum to a 28-21 halftime lead and a 52-21 road playoff win.
The Spartans return home for the third-round game to face Early County after the No. 3-seed Bobcats took down Screven County 28-7.
The stop played as big as quarterback Rafe Chapple's 357 yards on 22 of 25 passing or running back Kyle Scales' 130 yards and four touchdowns. There was plenty of scoring, less defending.
"They are an explosive offense, they have some cats that can really tote the rock," GAC head coach Tim Hardy said. "They had some big plays early."
Big and fast.
Heard County's high-flying offense went on display from the start, with the Braves scoring the game's first touchdown on a four-play, 79 yard drive that lasted barely over a minute. And the Spartans, facing the speedy Braves, were content to keep the ball much longer. At least in the beginning.
GAC answered with a bruising 14 play drive that lasted 6:25. Chapple completed 3 of 4 passes for 43 yards and Scaled picked up his first 54 yards rushing and his first touchdown on the drive. The Spartans converted both third downs with Chapple completions of 14 and 6 yards.
And then the scoring picked up.
The Braves scored on a 49 yard run by Ta Freeland. GAC answered with a 15 play drive capped by Chapple's lone touchdown pass to Chris Williams. Freeland scored from 62 yards out on fourth down. GAC answered with another Scales score, making it 21-21.
Then, the stop.
With two minutes left before half, the Spartans sliced through the Braves' defense as Chapple completed passes of 12, 24 and 32 yards, setting up Scales third score of the game and the first Spartan lead.
In the first half alone, Chapple completed 14 of 15 passes for 219 yards and Scales rushed for 96 yards and three scores.
"We were just trying to drive on," Chapple said. "That is all we needed to do."
Heard County's leading rusher, Freeland, racked up 116 yards and two touchdowns on four carries and Hunt completed 3 of 4 passes for 98 yards.
Then came the second half.
GAC had won the toss and deferred so the Spartans turned that first stop into two straight possessions, eventually, a 14 point lead.
Like it's first drive, GAC grounded out a quarter-sucking, 15-play drive that lasted 7:26 and ended with Scales' final score of the night.
"We really possessed the ball," Hardy said. "But once we got that stop on defense we just sort of rolled from there."
The Spartans didn't allow another point and held the Braves to 140 yards in the second half after allowing 277 in the first two quarters. A Trevor Dedecker interception followed the first-half stop and set up another Spartans' score.
"We were really trying to stop them on D because we knew we were going to put points on the board if we got it," Dedecker said. "I was just thinking I had to hold onto the ball."
He did, and the Spartans watched the game turn from close to over quickly.
"It was a total team win," Hardy said. "We move on."