The Braves finish the year 11-1 overall, tying a school-record for wins and recording just the third region championship in program history.
Eleventh-year Heard County coach Tim Barron had mixed emotions following the tough setback.
“We’re awfully proud of the season we had, by all means. But we’re not satisfied — I can tell you that. I don’t think any player on this field, player-wise, coaching-wise, is satisfied with the way it ended,” Barron said. “We need to look at the film, we need to evaluate some things and find ways to close that gap. I think we’re just a few pieces away from being there. The difference between [Friday] night wasn’t as big as what the final score might appear. It’s just they dinked and dunked and executed on offense, and we’ve got to find ways to slow that type of offense up.”
The top-seeded and sixth-ranked Braves came out swinging early, but in the end, it was too much Rafe Chapple.
The Spartan junior signal-caller led a prolific GAC air attack up and down the field all night long. Chapple, the youngest of four brothers to line up under center for the GAC program through the years, picked apart the Heard County defense, completing 22-of-26 pass attempts for 366 yards and three touchdowns to engineer the Spartan shootout.
Chapple completed passes to five different players, with senior Peter Whiteneck being his favorite target, hauling in 10 receptions for 187 yards and three touchdowns.
The second-seeded and ninth-ranked Spartans (9-3) didn’t punt once all game, scoring on all eight of their possessions — seven touchdowns and a field goal. Chapple was sacked just once by the Heard County defense, with the Spartan offensive front providing ample time for Chapple to orchestrate the well-oiled machine.
“Yeah, it all starts out up front. Our O-line was fantastic [Friday] in the running game and passing game. Our two big play-makers — Rafe Chapple, the QB, and Kyle Scales, the running back — did a great job. They really just got it going for us,” first-year GAC coach Tim Hardy said.
While Chapple led the Spartans down the field much of the evening, it was Scales finishing the job more often than not. The senior tailback, who sat out last week’s opening-round playoff win with a sprained ankle, rushed for four touchdowns — runs of five, seven, five and four — to gobble up 135 yards on 24 carries.
It was the Braves who came out firing on all cylinders offensively in the early goings, though, beginning with an opening drive of four plays, covering 78 yards, to take the 7-0 lead on a five-yard Duranta Dunson touchdown run at the 10:40 mark of the first quarter.
The Spartans answered with a 14-play, 71-yard scoring drive, capped by a five-yard Scales run to knot the game up at 7-all with 4:15 left in the first quarter.
Heard County’s Ta Freeland then put the Braves back on top nearly by his lonesome on the ensuing possession, returning the kickoff to the HC 46-yard line and then blasting through a hole for a 49-yard touchdown run on the second play of the drive, making it a 14-7 contest with 3:21 left in the opening quarter.
The Spartans once again countered with a lengthy drive, marching 80 yards in 15 plays, with Chapple finding Whiteneck from eight yards out to tie the game back up at 14-14 with 7:44 left in the half.
Freeland got loose again when the Braves got the ball back, scoring on a 66-yard run this time to put Heard back on top at 21-14 at the 5:18 mark.
Following the kickoff, Chapple went back to work, connecting on a 58-yard strike to Whiteneck to set up a seven-yard Scales touchdown run with 4:00 remaining to tie the game up for a third time at 21-21.
The GAC defense finally forced a punt for the first time all night on the Braves’ next drive, and Jonathan Hunt’s boot bounced into the end zone for a touchback with 2:01 left in the half.
Chapple needed just five plays to go 80 yards, scoring on another five-yard Scales run with 38.8 seconds left in the half to give the Spartans their first lead of the evening at 28-21 going into the locker room.
And after yielding 265 yards of offense in the first half, the GAC defense shut the Braves out during the final 24 minutes, silencing Heard’s potent rushing attack and ultimately ending its season.
“I felt like maybe we simplified things a little bit. But our guys just started to play with confidence. Football is an emotional game ... and we started to rally more guys and get hats to the ball and did a good job there,” Hardy said.
“Heard County is an explosive football team. They’ve got play-makers on both sides. We were able to weather the storm and just made enough plays to get the lead just before half.”
Freeland led the Braves offensively with 137 rushing yards and two touchdowns on five attempts, while also hauling in a 47-yard pass. Hunt was 6-of-11 through the air for 190 yards with an interception and also picked up 32 yards on the ground on five carries.
And while the Braves return basically all of their skill guys, Barron said his senior class proved to be the unsung heroes of the 2012 Heard County football team.
“All you’ve got to do is pull up their GPAs and it will tell you a little bit about what kind of people they are,” Barron said. “Some of them will be lucky enough to go on and play at the next level, while others won’t. But they’ll all be successful. It’s just a good bunch of kids. They’ve got goals, they’ve got direction. It showed on the football field and it will show in the rest of their lives.”