NORCROSS — Greater Atlanta Christian got the plays it needed, most significantly from seniors Tyler Bride and Spencer Helms, to beat Prestonwood Christian with a fourth-quarter surge Friday night.
Bride scored his fourth and fifth touchdowns in the final period, while Helms was a wrecking ball on defense and the Spartans survived for a 34-27 victory over the visitors from Texas.
“We had some fortuitous things that happened — a bad punt snap that gave us a short field and we created some turnovers that were critical — and we took advantage,” head coach Tim Hardy said. “The thing in the second half is we scored when we were able to score, we had numerous stops and some punts that were key in field position.
“It really was a team second half.”
Bride finished with 251 yards and five TDs on 28 carries.
“(The offensive line) did a great job,” Bride said. “They gave great push. They worked hard during the week and I love my guys. They did everything they had to do to put me in a great position.”
Prestonwood took a 27-14 lead on an eight-yard strike from senior quarterback Jacob Switzer to Riley Wilson with 2:51 left in the third quarter.
From there, it was all Spartans.
GAC trimmed the margin with a seven-play scoring series before the quarter ran out. Brooks Miller reeled in a 37-yard pass from Jackson Hardy to set up a 3-yard TD from Bride.
The defense forced Prestonwood to punt on the first drive of the fourth quarter. The Spartans had first-and-19 from their own 20 after a penalty when Bride broke off another huge run.
Bride burst to the left side and was uncatchable. He went 80 yards and tied the game at 27 with 10:14 left to play.
“I just saw a hole,” Bride said. “I used my speed and my guys gave me great blocks.”
Almost immediately, Helms' pressure forced a fumble and GAC recovered the ball in the red zone. The Spartans punched it in, handing it to Bride for the final five yards.
“The team put things together when we needed to,” Helms said. “There were plays being made by everyone.”
The defense made GAC's only lead of the game stand up.
The Lions went for it on fourth-and-2 at the Spartan 37. Five-star Stanford signee Myles Hinton, a 6-foot-7 offensive tackle who also plays defense, blasted through the line and ate up running back Timothy Taylor. Prestonwood lost five yards on the play and turned the ball over on downs with 4:29 to go.
Feeding Bride chewed up some of the clock, but Prestonwood got the ball back with 1:57 remaining.
Bride, playing defensive back, made a crucial tackle in bounds to bleed time and then Helms slammed the door with a sack for loss.
“Obviously Tyler Bride was dynamic and made some huge plays,” Hardy said.
Prestonwood grabbed a 14-0 lead on short runs by junior Randell Holmes.
Holmes' first, at 3:59 of the first quarter, capitalized on a fumble.
Wilson recovered the loose ball and Prestonwood started the series on its own 43. The big play of the drive was a 26-yard completion from freshman quarterback Maguire Martin. Wilson went way up to get the long lob on the left sideline and put the Lions in the red zone. A face mask penalty on GAC put Prestonwood on the doorstep and Holmes ran it in from 8 yards out.
Switching to Switzer in the second quarter, the Lions drained the clock on a 90-yard, 15-play scoring series. Switzer, grandson of Barry Switzer, made two pivotal plays to sustain the drive. His keeper converted on a fourth-and-1 from the GAC 32, but the backbreaker was on second-and-22 after a holding call on the Lions. Switzer scrambled, buying time, and flung a hail mary to Wilson. The senior receiver hauled down a 37-yard completion and stepped out at the 5. Holmes punched it in for a 14-0 lead with 3:25 left in the half.
The Spartans fumbled on their first play of the ensuing series and Jackson Hardy fell on it at the 23.
Hardy drew all the focus on the next play, pulling all the attention to the right side.
Meanwhile, Bride trucked 77 yards untouched along the left sideline to score with 2:34 on the clock and bring GAC within 14-7.
“We felt like we just needed to execute a little bit better,” Hardy said of the halftime discussion. “We felt like their big plays on offense in the first half were more a function of lack of execution by us.
“Take nothing away from them — they have great players and a great scheme. But we just felt like we needed to buckle down and play with more discipline in the second half.”
GAC didn't waste a golden chance after a bad snap to the Prestonwood punter. The Spartans started their first series of the second half on the Lions' 8. Bride ran it three times to tie the game 14-14.
But a pick-six by Wilson restored Prestonwood's lead two minutes later. GAC overcame that and a number of other gaffes to avenge a 14-6 loss to the Lions in Plano last year.
“We felt the momentum going our way,” Helms said. “It was just a great team vibe, especially at halftime.”
GAC 34, PRESTONWOOD 27
Prestonwood 7 7 13 0 — 27
GAC 0 7 13 14 — 34
Prestonwood: Randell Holmes 8 run (Troop O'Neal kick) 3:59
Prestonwood: Holmes 2 run (O'Neal kick) 3:25
GAC: Tyler Bride 77 run (Beck Naegele kick) 2:34
GAC: Bride 1 run (Naegele kick) 9:25
Prestonwood: Riley Wilson 25 interception return (O'Neal kick) 7:19
Prestonwood: Wilson 8 pass from Jacob Switzer (kick failed) 2:51
GAC: Bride 3 run (kick failed) :11
GAC: Bride 80 run (Tyler Curland kick) 10:14
GAC: Bride 5 run (Curland kick) 7:11