Pace, GAC meet again with title trip at stake

On Oct. 9, Pace Academy traveled to GAC and lost 33-13 in a Region 6 showdown.

The Knights haven't lost since, reeling off six consecutive wins and outscoring their opponents 193-87. As a result of the win streak, the Knights (11-2, Region 6, No. 4 seed) find themselves in the semifinals for the first time in program history. They are the only No. 4 seed to survive at this point in the playoffs, regardless of classification.

But to advance to the finals means knocking off GAC.

The Spartans (12-1, Region 6, No. 1 seed) have done nothing but dominate since a season-opening loss to Benedictine on the road in Savannah. They're on a 12-game win streak and have outscored their opponents 481-159 in that span. They want a state title, but a familiar region pest in Pace stands in the way.

The Pace-GAC matchup is intriguing, to say the least. Though the score in the initial meeting wasn't close, both coaches believe a rematch will be much closer.

"They were up 13-12 at halftime," Spartans coach Tim Hardy said of GAC's meeting with Pace earlier this season. "They understand that. Football is a fair game, and it comes down to executing in certain moments. The team who executes wins."

Knights coach Chris Slade said he, his staff and team have learned from the loss to the Spartans.

"We can't make mistakes," Slade said. "(GAC) is an opportunistic team. You can't catch them sleeping, because they're not going to beat themselves."

It's back to square one for both teams. Both have shown capability at the quarterback position and have had success with a run-first approach on offense.

"We're at ground zero," Hardy said.

The Spartans have the luxury of hosting the semifinals, and are looking for a second straight trip to the finals. They lost to Benedictine last year in the state title game.

As a No. 4 seed, the Knights will never play a game at home this postseason. That's nothing new for Slade and company.

"We went through this last year," said Slade, whose Knights won two playoff road games last season as the No. 4 seed before losing to Fitzgerald in the quarterfinals. "It's not a big deal. We like the camaraderie. There are less distractions.

"There are few greater feelings in sports than beating someone in their own backyard."

Pace has never beaten GAC in two tries - the Spartans won in '14 and '15 regular season meetings and neither game was close.

Both the Spartans and Knights have reached their goal of being alive at this point in the season and both plan to advance beyond this week.

"We are where we planned on being," Hardy said. "We still haven't played our best game."

"We've worked hard to get to where we are," Slade said. "We could have played GAC last year (in the in the semifinals). Now we could play Fitzgerald (in the finals)."

Last season, Fitzgerald beat Pace 49-21 to advance to the semifinals. GAC beat Fitzgerald on a last second field goal to advance to the title game.

Fitzgerald plays Macon County on Friday for its ticket to the AA championship.