Lovett earned a spot in the GHSA playoffs by upsetting fourth-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian 35-28 Friday night with a stirring second-half comeback at Kilpatrick Memorial Stadium. The 6-AA play-in victory moves Lovett's record to 7-3 on the year.
The win moved the Lions into the state playoffs for the 10th consecutive season. Lovett's first-round playoff opponent will be Carver-Columbus. GAC finished its season 8-2.
In other local action, Campbell completed a 1-9 season by falling 33-7 at Hillgrove on Friday night. The Hawks completed a perfect 10-0 regular season and see here for The Marietta Daily Journal’s coverage of the game.
Lovett's Grant Haley opened the scoring with an 72-yard run, reversing field after a few steps and dashing to the end zone for the first of many big plays made by the sophomore. Haley broke away for three touchdowns during the night, including an 84-yard kickoff return and a dash of 47 yards that keyed the Lions' second-half burst. He also made a victory-clinching interception to end the Spartans' final drive.
The Spartan offense was able to move the ball early, but failed to capitalize deep in Lion territory. As quarterback Delano Spencer and running back Lavondre Nelson tried to establish GAC's running game, Spencer was forced to use all three of their alloted timeouts in the first quarter. The Spartans failed to convert on fourth down from the Lovett 1-yard line as Nelson was stopped on an outside run.
The Spartans tied the contest on a 16-yard QB keeper up the middle by Spencer with 6:22 left in the second quarter. With scant seconds left before halftime, the Lions tried a fake punt that failed, giving GAC possession on their own 40. Moments later, Nelson broke around the right corner and bursted past the Lovett defense for a 60-yard touchdown run with one second remaining in the half.
The Spartans looked to take a two-score lead after halftime, driving the ball with a rollout passing game and tough running. After their drive stalled, Connor Cox missed a 36-yard field goal and gave the Lions the ball on their own 20. Lions quarterback Willie Chandler led Lovett down the field, and Haley finished the drive with a 47-yard touchdown run.
Nelson was the Spatans' catalyst for most of the night, scoring the next GAC touchdown on a 14-yard run. The tide of the game turned on the ensuing kickoff with Haley taking the kick back for 84 yards. Down by 21-19, Chandler found wide receiver Cyrus Wilson for a two-point conversion to square the score.
The Spartans regained the lead on a 2-yard pile-push led by quarterback Jared Chapple early in the fourth quarter. The GAC defense looked to stop the Lovett threat as Tony Jones Jr. sacks disrupted the Lions backfield on multiple occasions. The Spartans offense was unable to control the ball late in the game and Lovett took advantage by scoring on their last two drives.
With 3:39 remaining, the Lions game-tying drive cuminated on a 4-yard halfback pass from John Jameson to Chandler, who made a fingertip catch. Chandler then won the game with his arm, finding Jameson in stride with a flawless 56-yard touchdown strike with less than two minutes in the game for their first and only lead.
The Spartans went down swinging, moving the ball through the air until Spencer was intercepted by Haley, sparking a wild celebration on the Lovett bench. Besides the playoff-clinching pick, Haley finished with 130 yards on eight carries.