NORCROSS — Greater Atlanta Christian scored 28 unanswered points over the game's final 13 minutes and 22 seconds to thunder past Thomson 38-19 on Friday.
Tyler Bride ripped off touchdown runs of 76 and 64 yards on either side of the fourth-quarter break to spark the Spartans. Both times, the senior hit the middle gap at full speed and left the Bulldogs in his rear-view mirror.
Junior defensive lineman Wil Calhoun provided the backbreaking play. Calhoun chased down dynamic Thomson quarterback Taymarion Martin and stripped the ball. Abdul Barrie fell on the loose ball and GAC (3-1) capitalized on the short field.
Spartans quarterback Jackson Hardy missed one play after injuring his non-throwing hand on first down.
He returned facing third-and-8 from the 45. Hardy completed a 14-yard dart to Brooks Miller, then unloaded a bomb to the back of the end zone. Senior Christian Thomas, playing his first game of the season, snagged the 31-yard strike to push the lead to an unsurmountable 31-19.
“Back shoulder, me and Jackson have been practicing that for a while now,” Thomas said with a grin. “It feels amazing just competing with my teammates, just getting back in the action.
“It's been a long time — five weeks without playing, It hurt me, but it feels good helping get my team the win. We all played hard. I just want to enjoy it.”
Joseph Rose's interception with 6:43 helped salt away the win.
Hardy found Miller in stride on a breakaway third-down pass. Miller reached out for the floating ball and cruised into the end zone for the final score of the game.
“The defense shut them out (in the fourth quarter) and then we had four big plays on offense,” head coach Tim Hardy said. “The two big runs by Tyler and two deep balls, just explosive plays, were really, really good.
“I'm proud of the win. That was special.”
GAC trailed 19-10 with 2:24 remaining in the third quarter after Thomson's Lilvasco Winfrey scored on a 91-yard kickoff return.
Three plays later, Bride burst through the line and covered 76 yards in a hurry. His run cut the lead to 19-17 at 1:22.
The Spartans defense forced a three-and-out and, in a blink, Bride was on his horse again. This time Bride raced 64 yards to the end zone.
Bride finished with 184 yards on 12 carries.
“That's what he does,” Thomas said matter-of-factly.
Hardy threw for more than 200 yards, taking advantage of getting both Thomas and Jake Hicks back from injury. Miller was his top target during their absence and was again a key part of the air attack.
“We're learning to stay with it,” Tim Hardy said. “We play good people so it takes you a minute to figure it out, get the tempo and the feeling. Our guys did a great job. Just the competitive drive that you see, our guys staying with it over the course of four quarters, staying poised and finding a way to make a play.
“It's fun to see guys step up. It's great to have Christian Thomas out here making a big play and Brooks Miller on another big play. It was awesome.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Thomson opened the second quarter with a 37-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-9 to take a 6-0 lead. Martin heaved it to Dylan Hobbs for the score. The point-after was wide.
The Bulldogs pushed the lead to 12-0 by going 99 yards on 17 plays — all on the ground — to chew up most of the second-quarter clock. Hobbs did the yeoman's job with 58 of those yards, including the final four for the TD with 1:39 left in the half. Hudson Higgins blocked the point after.
“In the first half and certainly in the second quarter we were not playing Spartan football,” Tim Hardy said. “We weren't playing with the toughness and the grit that we need to. We got it right and guys did a great job.”
GAC got on the board with nine seconds remaining.
A crucial pass interference penalty on Thomson kept the drive alive on fourth-and-8 from the 35. Thomas went up to reel in a 19-yard pass from Hardy. The senior got out of bounds and stopped the clock with the ball on the 2.
“The first series I was kind of shaky on my routes, but after that first catch I made (for 10 yards on the second series), it felt amazing,” Thomas said. “I felt rejuvenated.”
Bride bulldozed his way in for the score on the next play and Tyler Curland's point-after cut the gap to 12-7 at the half. Curland was 5-for-5 on PATs and also drilled a 23-yard field goal late in the third to get GAC within 12-10.
“Coach Hardy talked to us, gave us a little speech (at halftime) about how we had to go get it,” Thomas said. “Thomson is a heck of a team. We just had to want it more — and we did.”
GAC 38, THOMSON 19
Thomson 0 12 7 0 — 19
GAC 0 7 10 21 — 38
Thomson: Rodney Lazenby 37 pass from Taymarion Martin (kick failed) 11:51
Thomson: Dylan Hobbs 4 run (kick failed) 1:39
GAC: Tyler Bride 2 run (Tyler Curland kick) :09
GAC: Curland 23 FG, 2:37
Thomson: Lilvasco Winfrey 91 kickoff return (Connor Andrew kick) 2:24
GAC: Bride 76 run (Curland kick) 1:22
GAC: Bride 64 run (Curland kick) 10:52
GAC: Christian Thomas 31 pass from Jackson Hardy (Curland kick) 8:15
GAC: Brooks Miller 51 pass from Hardy (Curland kick) 5:43