By Robert Haddocks
Brandon Holzgrefe kicked a 19-yard field goal as time expired to lift Greater Atlanta Christian to a 27-24 win over Early County and send the Spartans to the Class AA state semifinals.
Early County drove 91 yards in less than two minutes to tie the score at 24-24 with 59 seconds on the clock. GAC quarterback Rafe Chapple didn’t have his best night, but he completed five straight passes on the game-winning to set up the chip shot field goal, which sneaked just inside the right upright.
On the game-winning drive, GAC took advantage of a short field after Early County kicked the ball out of bounds at the GAC 47-yard line. The resourceful Chapple found Peter Whiteneck for two short completions and then dumped off two passes to Kyle Scales to put the Spartans within Holzgrefe’s range at the 18-yard line. He completed his third pass to Scales on the drive and, after an illegal substitution by Early County, a Scales run put the ball on the two-yard line with two seconds left.
Players and fans flooded the field as the Spartans (10-3) advanced to their first Final Four since 2002.
Chapple completed 16 of 27 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Scales led all rushers with 121 yards on 20 carries.
Both teams came in with explosive offenses but the defenses were solid throughout most of the game. The Spartans were able to contain the Bobcats big, versatile quarterback Jacori Taylor, although the senior finished with 282 yards of total offense. But the Spartan defense came up with big plays when it needed, forcing two three-and-outs and recovering a fumble in the fourth quarter. Darius Slayton also intercepted a pass in the end zone in the final seconds before halftime to thwart an Early County drive.
GAC trailed the Bobcats, the No. 3 seed from 1-AA, 17-16 late in the third quarter after Taylor and Martavius Allen paired up for a 29-yard touchdown. But on the Spartans’ first play from scrimmage, Scales ran right, skipped past a couple of defenders and then broke out of the pack for a 58-yard touchdown. Whiteneck caught a Chapple pass for the two-point conversion and a 24-17 lead with six seconds left in the third period.
Early County tied the score on a 53-yard run by Ladonis Bryant with 59 seconds remaining.
GAC, which scored 55 points in last week’s win, was held in check in the first half, totaling only 89 total yards. Still, the Spartans led 16-10 at the half. After forcing a safety on Early County’s first possession, Chapple and Slayton connected on a 16-yard touchdown and 9-0 lead.
Early County (9-4) answered with an 80-yard scoring drive capped by an 11-yard run by Bryant, and took a 10-9 lead with 22-yard field goal by Matt Stuart. But Chapple quickly responded, firing his second touchdown, a 13-yarder to Chris Williams in the back on the end zone with 2:13 left in the half. The Bobcats lthreatened to score before intermission and had a first-and-goal. But Darius Slayton intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone.
GAC – 9 – 7 – 8 – 3 – 27
EC – 0 – 10 – 7- 7 – 24
GAC – Safety (ball out of end zone)
GAC – Darius Slayton 16 pass from Rafe Chapple (Brandon Holzgrefe kick)
EC – Ladonis Bryant 11 run (Matt Stuart kick)
EC – Stuart 22 FG
GAC – Chris Williams 13 pass from Rafe Chapple (Holzgrefe kick)
EC – Martavius Allen 29 pass from Jacori Taylor (Stuart kick)
GAC – Kyle Scales 58 run (2 point conversion pass Raffle to Peter Whiteneck
EC – Bryant 53 run (Stuart kick)
GAC – Holzgrefe 19 FG