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Early County stands between GAC and rare quarterfinal win

Photo: Craig Cappy GAC's Trevor Dedecker (34) goes after Westminister quarterback Jake Forte (10) during their game earlier this season.

Photo: Craig Cappy GAC's Trevor Dedecker (34) goes after Westminister quarterback Jake Forte (10) during their game earlier this season.

Early County at GAC

Who: Early County Bobcats (1-AA) vs. Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans (6-AA)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

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

Coaches: Trey Woolf, Early; Tim Hardy, GAC

Records: Early 9-3; GAC 9-3

Last week: Early beat Screven County 28-7; GAC beat Heard County 52-21

Winner plays: Fitzgerald-Jefferson winner

Early leaders:

Rushing: Ladonis Bryant, 964 yards, 12 TDs

Jacori Taylor, 823 yards, 7 TDs

Passing: Jacori Taylor, 1,736 yards, 18 TDs

Receiving: Ladonis Bryant, 621 yards, 6 TDsChris Lee, 323 yards, 3 TDs

Tackles: Brakari Isom, 163

GAC leaders:

Rushing: Kyle Scales, 1,196 yards

Micah Abernathy, 473 yards

Passing: Rafe Chapple, 2,146 yards

Receiving: Peter Whiteneck, 874 yards

Chris Williams, 649 yards

Tackles: Paul Carothers, 100

Ross Wood, 86

Trevor Dedecker, 73

Interceptions: Ross Wood, 5

Sacks: Jake Rose, 3

Game-by-game:

Early County Bobcats (9-3)

Seminole County W 55-20

at Miller County W 21-6

Bainbridge L 14-12

at Calhoun County W 20-6

at Brooks County L 42-8

at Berrien W 43-19

Thomasville W 17-14

at Fitzgerald L 17-14

Pelham W 41-20

Cook W 27-22

at Bleckley County W 40-20

at Screven County W 28-7

GAC Spartans (9-3)

Stone Mountain W 34-26

Savannah W 31-8at Apalachee W 31-21

Chamblee L 27-24 (OT)

at Howard (Tenn.) W 42-20

Thomson L 36-27

Westminster W 30-0

at Hapeville Charter W 38-20

Wesleyan W 42-20

at Lovett L 31-30

Model W 35-6

at Heard County W 52-21

Greater Atlanta Christian has its own football historian on the football staff in former head coach Jimmy Chupp, who still assists the Spartans' new head coach, Tim Hardy.

Chupp has been around the Norcross private school for years, first as an assistant to Jim Lofton and from 1999-2007 as the head coach.

"Coach Chupp knows all the history, like the last time GAC and Early County played, in the (Georgia) Dome in the (2002) state semifinals," now head coach Tim Hardy said. "We're conscious of those things, but the last time GAC and Early County played a lot of our players were in the first grade. Their players were, too."

That said, a repeat of history wouldn't be bad, either.

GAC defeated Early 21-19, thanks to a thrilling goal-line stand, in the 2002 semifinals to reach the program's first state championship game.

The Spartans (9-3) have made the quarterfinals three times since 2002, but have lost all three times. They hope that fortune changes Friday when they host Early (9-3), with the winner reaching the semifinals. It would be GAC's third-ever trip to the Final Four.

A chance to make new history is exciting for the GAC players and the coaches, including Hardy, who is enjoying his first real taste of high school playoffs since he played himself in the early 1990s. He coached in the playoffs plenty during his 10-year tenure at Wheaton College (Ill.), but this season has offered his first high school playoff experience as a coach.

"It's a lot of fun," Hardy said. "It really energizes the campus community. We're having a great time. The coaches are enjoying it. We're enjoying this entire season. If you can't enjoy it while you're going through it, then it's not worth doing."

If GAC wants to keep its run going, it will take a victory over a stout opponent in Early, which hails from tough Region 1-AA. The third-seeded Bobcats already have scored a couple of wins over higher seeds, taking out Bleckley County 40-20 in the opener and beating Screven County 28-7 last Friday.

A strong Early defense nearly posted a shutout vs. Screven, while quarterback Jacori Taylor and running back/receiver Ladonis Bryant continued to be the team's top playmakers. Taylor had 17 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown and threw for 147 yards and two scores last week, while Bryant caught both TD passes and carries 11 times for 104 yards and another score.

"Early County's a South Georgia team," Hardy said. "They're talented. They're big and fast. They have two dynamic playmakers on offense who really stand out. ... That's a great region they play in. It's a physical brand of football and you have to match that."

Hardy was pleased with his team's physicality last Friday in a 52-21 rout of previously unbeaten Heard County. The road victory turned heavily into the Spartans' favor thanks to an explosive offensive effort.

Kyle Scales (24 rushes, 133 yards, four TDs) ran the ball well, while Rafe Chapple was nearly flawless in completing 22 of 26 passes for 366 yards and three scores. Peter Whiteneck had 11 catches for 197 yards and three TDs, while Andrew Lewis had four catches for 61 yards.

Trevor Dedecker (six tackles, one for loss, interception) led the defense and Brandon Holzgrefe was 7-for-7 on PATs, in addition to hitting his school-record ninth field goal of the season.

"We played really well (vs. Heard)," Hardy said. "They've got a good team, but we played well and executed on both sides of the ball. That was the big thing, our execution. ... We played really well up front and that created some opportunities for Kyle Scales in the running game and to Rafe Chapple to make his throws.

"Rafe was spot on. He made some great throws and the receivers made some great catches."

The play up front will be particularly important against the Bobcats, who Hardy compared to Thomson in terms of speed and physicality. Thomson, 12-0 and No. 1 in Class AAA, defeated GAC 36-27 on Oct. 5.

"It really starts up front on both sides of the ball," Hardy said of the matchup with Early. "They have an excellent offensive line. And we need to handle their pressure up front with our offensive line."