Chris Seabolt says he knows God may not care about the outcome of a football game.
That didn’t stop the Gators coach from lifting up a prayer with 2:34 left Friday night. Rival South Warren had just scored a touchdown to pull within 17-16 and Spartans coach Brandon Smith kept his offense on the field to go for two.
“I know the good Lord loves me, but he could care less who wins,” Seabolt said. “But I was still praying to him anyway.”
Divine intervention or not, GHS defensive lineman Bradley Herman stuffed South quarterback Cameron Harrison on a keeper at the 2-yard line. Several of his Gators teammates piled on to keep Harrison from crossing the goal line.
Greenwood’s Mason Turner recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the Gators – ranked No. 10 in Class 5A – pulled out a 17-16 win over the Class 4A No. 1 Spartans.
“This week we practiced hard,” senior safety Malcolm Johnson said. “We didn’t play around. We know this is a big game for us and we accomplished this win.”
GHS (3-0) beat South Warren (2-1) on Friday for the first time in school history. The Spartans had won the previous three meetings by an average of 35.3 points, including a 43-7 SWHS win in 2015.
The Spartans also saw a 17-game winning streak come to an end with the loss.
The defending 4A champs hadn’t lost since falling in the Class 3A semifinals to Central on Nov. 28, 2014. South Warren had won each of its games by at least 21 points since then.
With that recent track record, the Spartans were in unfamiliar territory when they fell behind 17-0 early in the second quarter. Jumping out to an early lead was a key priority for the Gators going into Friday’s game, Turner said.
“If we got after it we knew that they would fold up since they’ve never been put in a position to do that,” said Turner, a senior right tackle. “We knew we had to do that before the game started.”
South Warren eventually fought back into the game, but couldn’t overcome a collection of penalties and some key injuries.
Wide receiver/defensive back C.J. Hayes left in the first half with a shoulder injury. Quarterback Ryder Litten (hip) and offensive lineman Chris Hickman (knee) then went down in the second half.
Hayes, Hickman and Litten could all miss multiple games, Spartans coach Brandon Smith said.
“We just had way too many mistakes to win a ball game,” Smith said. “We were undisciplined, had penalties, illegal procedure penalties on offense, turnovers – you name it, we did it.
“That was a good football team and they wanted it more than us, they played better than us and they deserved it.”
Greenwood set the tone early with a 60-yard touchdown run. A 28-yard pass from Jackson Adams to Riley Sadler put the Gators on the South Warren 1-yard line.
Triston Wilson crashed into the end zone on the next play, and the Spartans took a 7-0 lead with 8:44 left in the first quarter.
Adams completed only three passes in the game, all of which came in the first half. But the passes all went for at least 22 yards – key plays in an otherwise defense-dominated game.
“We knew that it would be a tough game,” Adams said. “They were putting 10 guys in the box, so we knew we’d have to throw. That was a big emphasis for me.
“We executed, had great receivers make great catches. We executed our offense perfectly.”
A 31-yard Tanner Dawson field goal in the final seconds of the first quarter made it 10-0. Hayes fumbled the ensuing kickoff, setting up the Gators in Spartan territory.
Adams took advantage, running nearly untouched up the middle for a 33-yard TD. That gave GHS a 17-0 edge with 11:55 left in the second quarter.
That was Greenwood’s last score of the night, but the Gators’ defense held strong, pitching a first-half shutout.
“In the second half, credit to South’s defense, they just stuffed everything we tried to do,” Seabolt said. “There were a couple of times we thought we could hit them in the passing game and just couldn’t execute. But the defense just was amazing tonight.”
Litten got South Warren on the board with 5:52 left in the third quarter, running in from 18 yards out. But the Jacksonville University commit went down after being tackled with 1:55 left in the third and didn’t return.
With the backup Harrison now leading the Spartans, the teams traded miscues. Harrison was picked off by Greenwood’s Dakota Ford, but a bad snap led to a short punt that gave South the ball back in Gator territory.
The Spartan drive fizzled out, but Alex Cohron nailed a 36-yard field goal to make it a 17-10 game with 7:16 to play.
GHS went three-and-out and South drove back down the field. Facing a third-and-12 at the GHS 25, Harrison ran 20 yards down to the 5. Running back Kayron Namvong found paydirt on the next play to make it 17-16 with 2:34 left.
Smith then went for two and Greenwood got the stop, sparking a wild celebration on the home sideline.
“Everybody was jumping, everybody was just hyped and happy,” Johnson said.
Turner recovered the onside kick, and running back Willie Reynolds ran for a first down on the ensuing drive to ice away the Gators’ emotional victory.
“It sure feels good to beat that bunch,” Seabolt said. “I know our kids are fired up.
“They’re a really good team. They’re ranked No. 1 in the state for a reason. I’d be willing to bet they go 13-2, 14-1. I’m just glad we’re going to be the one that’s hanging on their record.”
SWHS – 0 0 7 9 – 16
GHS – 10 7 0 0 – 17
GHS – Wilson 1 run (Dawson kick), 8:44
GHS – Dawson 31 field goal, :30
GHS – Adams 33 run (Dawson kick), 11:55
SW – Litten 18 run (Cohron kick), 5:52
SW – Cohron 36 kick, 7:16
SW – Namvong 5 run (2-point run stopped), 2:34
— Follow Daily News sports reporter Brad Stephens on Twitter @BradBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.