NORCROSS — A fake field goal provided the spark early and the Spartans made critical plays late as Greater Atlanta Christian topped Westminster 24-18 in a key Region 5-AAA football matchup Friday night.
The Spartans (1-4, 1-1) were off to their worst start since 2009 after playing four very talented teams to start the season, and coach Tim Hardy knew his team needed to take chances against the Wildcats to get things going in the right direction.
“We needed to come out and try to be aggressive in what we were doing,” Hardy said. “We’ve played some really good teams but we haven’t played the way we are capable of playing. So we called the fake field goal and it was perfectly executed by our guys. That was a catalyst for the game. Clearly, there was tension still, that play didn’t win the game, but it gave us a good start.”
GAC forced the Wildcats (2-3, 1-1) into a three-and-out on the first possession and drove down to the Westminster 6-yard line before a bad snap and a sack appeared to force a long field goal attempt. After initially lining up in the field goal formation, the Spartans shifted into a shotgun set and Ford Hallock found Luke Hicks for a 25-yard touchdown.
“We’ve had that play planned since the beginning of the season, we were just waiting for the right time to call it and it worked perfectly,” Hicks said.
Westminster responded with a 44-yard field goal by Josh Brockman to make the score 7-3. Another bad snap and a blocked punt gave the Wildcats a short field and Fain Barton ran in from 10 yards to give them a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.
A big play from senior Will Hardy gave the momentum back to the Spartans. Quarterback Mekhi Blocker, starting his second game for the injured Josh Sharpe, lofted a deep pass down the middle that initially looked to be overthrown, but Hardy turned on the jets and reeled in an impressive over the shoulder grab down to the two-yard line. Gannon Hearst ran in from one yard three plays later to put the Spartans back on top.
Blocker completed his first eight passes in the game and finished 14-of-19 for 191 yards and a touchdown.
“Mekhi has definitely stepped up,” Hicks said. “Losing Josh Sharpe is huge and I hate it for him, but Mekhi has always been a leader and now he’s leading on the field too and making some big plays.”
After leading 14-10 at the half, the Spartans’ offense sputtered in the third quarter. Tennessee commit Addison Nichols was ejected after being flagged for a personal foul, and the offense found little momentum. But it was the defense’s turn to step up and make some big plays, intercepting Westminster passes on three straight possessions. Will Hardy pulled in the first two for his second consecutive game with two interceptions, while Ashton Utley grabbed the third.
“We had some challenging things happen and we just had to keep going,” Tim Hardy said. “To get turnovers his huge and our guys just kept that edge and kept attacking, making critical plays in critical moments. Our defense carried us while we were sputtering in the third quarter. We just played good complimentary team football.”
Kicker Branan Rountree hit a 39-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to give GAC a 17-10 lead, then Blocker converted a key third-and-long with a scramble to keep the Spartans’ next drive alive. On the next play, Blocker executed a play action and found Hicks wide open for a 30-yard touchdown to put GAC up 24-10.
Westminster stayed in it with a long completion from John Collier to Jacob Flemming before Robert Clarke ran it from two yards. Clarke also ran in the two-point conversion to make the score 24-18. But the Spartans recovered the onside kick and a key first down completion from Blocker to Josh McGee iced the game.
Blocker said he thinks it’s just the start of Spartans turning their season around.
“We all know to step up and make big plays at big moments and that’s why we trust each other,” he said. “We all lean on each other and that’s why we are going to keep this going and keep winning games.”
Hearst finished with 68 yards and a score on 20 carries while Hicks had 80 yards on five catches with two touchdowns. Will Hardy had 3 catches for 70 yards and ran the ball for 30 more. Blocker also added 30 yards on the ground.
GAC 24, WESTMINSTER 18
GAC 7 7 0 10
WESTMINSTER 3 7 0 8
GAC: Luke Hicks 25 pass from Ford Hallock (Branan Rounntree kick) 5:23
Westminster: Josh Brockman 44 kick 1:33
Westminster: Fain Barton 10 run (Brockman kick) 10:33
GAC: Gannon Hearst 1 run (Rountree kick) 7:33
GAC: Rountree 39 kick 11:51
GAC: Hicks 30 pass from Mekhi Blocker (Rountree kick), 9:55
Westminster: Robert Clarke 2 run (Clarke run), 2:51