By Robert Haddocks
If there’s something that Grant Haley can’t do, his coach Mike Muschamp doesn’t know what it is.
Haley rushed for 108 yards, scored two touchdowns, nabbed an interception and came up with the game-clinching play on defense as Lovett knocked off No. 1 Greater Atlanta Christian, 17-14 to claim the Region 6-AA title.
The Vanderbilt commit got plenty of help from his defense, which stymied a Spartan team that entered the game averaging more than 50 points per game. The Lions forced five turnovers, including four interceptions. Still, GAC had a chance to win. Trailing 17-14, the Spartans took over at midfield with 2:43 left. On fourth down at the Lovett 34-yard line, GAC quarterback Rafe Chapple threw a deep post to Darius Slayton. Haley, at the last second, knocked the ball away.
With the win, Lovett (9-1, 4-0) secured the No. 1 seed while GAC (9-1, 3-1) finished second.
Haley said the key to shutting down GAC was keeping its great athletes in front of them, which they did most of the game.
“He is the best player in the state – bar none,” Muschamp said of Haley, who sometimes kicks off and returns punts for the Lions. “I’ll tell you why, he impacts all three phases of the team. He’s the hardest working kid on the team and he’s the best athlete on the team.”
Lovett, which has now beaten GAC six straight times, trailed 7-3 at the half, but Haley quickly changed that. Bottled up in the backfield, he broke free for a 58-yard run down the right sideline and three plays later scored on two-yard run.
Less than two minutes later, after Jonathan Thomas interception, Haley scored again, running off left tackle and bouncing outside for a 9-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
GAC, which hadn’t scored fewer than 41 points, will host a playoff game next week.
Haley said he knew GAC would throw the deep post to its best receiver, Slayton. “I had to get ready for the play and I got a good break on it,” he said. “Our defense did really great. We’ve stepped up all year.”
Chapple cut the lead to 17-14 on a 1-yard run late in the fourth period. Two possessions earlier, down 17-7, he bullied his way toward the goal line, but fumbled inside the 5, his fifth turnover of the game.
From the start neither team could find its offensive rhythm. GAC managed only 105 total yards and six first downs in the first half, with three of its drives halted by interceptions, including one deep in Lovett territory after the Spartans recovered a fumble on a kickoff. Chapple, who entered the game with more than 1,700 yards passing, completed only four of eight passes for 39 yards in the first half.
Lovett’s offense, too, sputtered throughout the first half. Haley had just 33 yards on 10 carries, but he did record a leaping interception of Chapple in the first quarter. Alex Sayles and Grant Towles also had interceptions for the Lions. Micah Abernathy finished with a game-high 130 yards on 23 carries.
LOVETT – 0 – 3 – 14 – 0 – 17
GAC – 0 – 7 – 0 – 7 – 14
L – Cole McGowan 38 FG
G – Parker Polhill 5 pass from Rafe Chapple (Brandon Holzgrefe kick)
L – Grant Haley 2 run (McGowan kick)
L – Haley 9 run (McGowan kick)
G – Chapple 1 run (Holzgrefe kick)