When Tim Barron looks at the film, Friday’s second-round matchup of the Class AA state playoffs brings his Heard County High School football team’s toughest opponent of the year to date — Greater Atlanta Christian.
From offense to defense to special teams, there isn’t a weakness in the No. 9 Spartans (8-3), who makes the trip to Staples Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
“We’ve got the film and you sit down and watch it and break it down and they’re good in a lot of places. Their offensive line does exceptionally well, their fullback does a great job blocking, they’ve got two backs that are probably as good as we’ve seen. Their receiving corps is excellent, their quarterback is probably the best we’ve seen. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, by all means, to be able to slow their offense down,” Barron said.
And things really don’t get any easier when looking at the GAC defense. The Spartans have allowed 19.5 points per game, but have a shutout and are coming off a 35-6 win in the first round against Model, where the score came on the final play of the game.
The Heard County coach compared the Spartan defense to the unit that held his team to just 21 points through four quarters in a 28-21 overtime win during the regular season.
“Defensively, they’re probably as good a defense we’ve seen. Manchester’s defense was very athletic and GAC, their defense is not the same personnel-wise as Manchester, but they’re very good up front and their linebackers do a good job. You can tell they’re well-coached. They’re going to be in the right spot all night long. We’ve got challenges all over the place,” Barron said.
For the No. 6 Braves (11-0) on the defensive side of the ball, the focus will be stopping running back Kyle Scales. The senior is coming off an ACL injury suffered at the end of last season that forced him to miss the final three games of the 2011 regular season, the playoffs and also limited his action for the summer and start of fall.
This season, Scales has bounced back to rush for 1,063 yards and 16 touchdowns in the regular season. He sat out of the first round game due to an ankle injury suffered in the regular-season finale, but Spartan coach Tim Hardy said he could have played if they needed him.
“He’s shifty and he’s good in space, but he’s also a strong runner. He’s got both those. He can make you miss or he can run through you. Then they’ve got [Micah] Abernathy that’s a great complement to him. More of a slasher, shifty type runner,” Barron said.
Running the offense is junior quarterback Rafe Chapple, who had four touchdowns in the Round 1 win, completing 15-of-19 attempts for 162 yards, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another. Chapple is the fourth of four brothers to line up under center at GAC with two — Lee and Colt — being all-state performers.
With that upbringing and pedigree, there’s not much that overwhelms Chapple during the game.
“He’s comfortable. His pocket awareness is probably as good as we’ve seen. When there is pressure, he steps up in the pocket. His eyes stay focused down field. He rarely makes bad decisions. In all the game film, I think I’ve seen him throw one bad ball and that’s about it. He doesn’t put his team in a bad position. He puts the ball in play-makers’ hands. He’s very good at everything they do,” Barron said.
The Spartans are enjoying the second trip to the second round in three years and made it to the state quarterfinals in 2006 and were Class AA state runner-up in 2002.
And dealing with a team on its third head coach in four years, Hardy has the program on the right track in his first year leading the Spartans after a first-round exit a year ago.
“That’s a compliment to the kids to be able to handle that. Three head coaches in four years, they’ve obviously handled it exceptionally well. The GAC-type kid is going to be exceptionally smart and be able to process things quickly, so I’m sure they picked up on the new schemes quicker than most would,” Barron said.
When facing the best team you’ve faced all year, you have to play your best.
“You like to look at somebody on film that you can find a place that you can attack. They’re solid at every position. They do a great job in all the phases of the game,” Barron said.