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No. 2 GAC looks to change history with No. 3 Lovett

GAC wide receiver David Elrod (15) hauls in a long pass over Wesleyan’s Joash Garrard (24) during last week’s game at Wesleyan. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)

GAC wide receiver David Elrod (15) hauls in a long pass over Wesleyan’s Joash Garrard (24) during last week’s game at Wesleyan. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)

Tim Hardy is only responsible for one loss to Lovett.

Others have preceded for Greater Atlanta Christian, though, and that series history is something the Spartans’ second-year head coach can change Friday night in one of the most highly anticipated Class AA football matchups of the season.

Second-ranked and unbeaten GAC hosts No. 3 Lovett, its nemesis of late, with the Region 6-AA title going to the winner.

The Lions (8-1, 3-0 region) have won the last five meetings with GAC (9-0, 3-0), four by a touchdown or less. Two were decided by a point, including last season’s 31-30 Lovett win, courtesy of a missed Spartan extra point late in the fourth quarter.

If GAC can reverse that luck against Lovett, it also can win its first region title since 2001 and a No. 1 seed for next week’s state playoffs.

“We’re excited about it,” Hardy said. “There are probably half a dozen teams in the (state title) hunt in AA and we’re definitely two of them. It’s going to be fun to play them.”

GAC has been the more dominant of the two this season with an explosive offense that has put away every opponent early. The points blitz comes from the start and keeps the pressure on week after week, resulting in a 50.7 scoring average for Hardy’s team.

Running back Micah Abernathy has 1,119 yards and 17 touchdowns on just 83 carries, a stunning 13.5-yard per carry average. Quarterback Rafe Chapple (1,741 passing yards, 19 TDs) delivers his share in a balanced offense, too, spreading the ball to a pack of receivers led by Darius Slayton (22 catches, 754 yards, seven TDs, 34.3 yards per catch) and Chris Williams (28 catches, 494 yards, seven TDs).

In nine games, GAC has punted just 10 times.

“That just shows the consistency in our execution,” Hardy said. “We’ve executed well early and we’ve been able to get out of the gates well.”

Lovett doesn’t have as many blowouts to its credit, the result of a more challenging schedule. Its resumé includes a 41-38, double-overtime win over Marist and a 36-33 OT loss to Washington County.

Vanderbilt commitment Grant Haley is the Lions’ game-breaker on offense, but quarterback Willie Candler also is an impressive dual threat. Meanwhile, the Lovett defense has given up just 13 points in its three region games.

“Defensively, they run to the football well and they’re aggressive,” Hardy said.

The Spartans counter with an underrated defense of their own. Their unit has given up just 17 points in region play.

Paul Carothers (75 tackles), Tyler Cooksey (59 tackles) and David Elrod have played well at linebacker for GAC, while safety Ross Wood also has been a star. Wood has returned all three of his interceptions for TDs. An active defensive line also is a big part of the group’s success.

“The past eight games, our starters on defense have given up an average of five points a game,” Hardy said.

Neither team has a glaring weakness, so the matchup sets up very even. It would be GAC’s first close game of the season, which is what the Spartans expect.

“It’s almost like looking in the mirror with us and (Lovett),” Hardy said.

Lovett Lions (6-AA)

Coach: Mike Muschamp

Record: 8-1, 3-0 region

Last week: Beat Westminster 20-0

GAC Spartans (6-AA)

Coach: Tim Hardy

Record: 9-0, 3-0 region

Last week: Beat Wesleyan 42-7

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: Lovett won 31-30 last year

Directions to Greater Atlanta Christian School: From I-85, go east on Indian Trail Road and school is on the right.