Photo: Craig Cappy GAC fans mob Ross Wood (20) after the Spartans beat Early County on Friday night in the state playoffs.
NORCROSS -- It was 10 years ago when Greater Atlanta Christian and Early County met in the state football playoffs and hopefully it won't be another decade after the show these two teams put on Friday night at Spartan Stadium. That's because the 2012 edition of GAC-Early County ended in dramatic fashion as Brandon Holzgrefe connected on a 19-yard field goal on the game's final play to lift the Spartans to a 27-24 win Early County.
With the quarterfinal victory, GAC (10-3) advances to the Class AA state semifinals for the first time since 2002, when the Spartans edge Early County 21-19 in a game that also had a thrilling finish, thanks to a goal-line stand by GAC.
This time, GAC was on the other side of the ball as the Spartans took over at their own 47 with 59 seconds to go in the game and marched to the Early County 2 with 2.4 seconds left. Quarterback Rafe Chapple went 5 of 6 passing on the drive and led GAC on a game-winning drive that will be remembered for a long time.
From there, Holzgrefe did the rest to send GAC into the Final Four of Class AA next Friday at Jefferson, which Fitzgerald in triple overtime Friday.
"I just tried to concentrate on what I had to do and make sure I got the ball in the air," said Holzgrefe. "I know (Early County) called those timeouts, but I just went out and got it done. My kicking coach even came up and tried to keep me loose by asking me who was going to win tomorrow Georgia or Alabama. I said Georgia, of course."
GAC broke on top midway through the first quarter when Early County had trouble with the snap on a punt and eventually fumbled the ball out of the end zone for the safety. Darius Slayton and Chapple then went work for GAC after the free kick and connected on a 16-yard scoring pass to make it 9-0 Spartans with 3:52 left in the opening quarter.
But Early County (9-4) came back and answered with 10 straight points to take a 10-9 lead. Ladonis Bryant got it started with an 11-yard TD run and then Matt Stuart kick a 22-yard field goal with 4:53 to go in the second quarter.
But GAC responded when Chapple hit Chris Williams on a 13-yard TD pass to give the Spartans a 16-10 lead with only 2:17 left in the opening half.
Early County had a great scoring opportunity just before halftime, but Slayton came up with an interception in the end zone to snuff out the Bobcats' threat and preserve the Spartans' six-point advantage.
After Early County's Jacori Taylor hit Martavius Allen on a 29-yard TD pass to take a 17-16 lead with 45 seconds to go in the third quarter, GAC regained the lead at 24-17 on a 58-yard run by Kyle Scales and got the two-point conversion pass as Chapple hit Peter Whiteneck with 28 seconds left in the third quarter. Scales finished the game with a well-earned 116 yards on 19 carries.
Early County looked like it was going to send the game to overtime when Bryant got loose on a 53-yard TD run with just 59 seconds remaining to tie it at 24-24.
But that only set the stage for Holzgrefe's heroics.
"This was about a team effort tonight," said GAC head coach Tim Hardy. "But you expect that from this team, because they pick each other up and play together as a team. On a night when we were up against a good defense (in Early County), our defense stepped up and kept us in this game and then we were able to make some plays on that final drive."