ALPHARETTA, Ga. — This year’s Alpharetta squad has accomplished what no other team in their program has done — earn a quarterfinals berth. The Raiders advanced beyond the second round for the first time Friday night with an exciting 24-21 win over Douglas County at home.
“I’ve been here for nine years,” head coach Jacob Nichols said. “I’ve seen everything from the 3-7 seasons to the first playoffs to the first region championship. This is definitely at the top of my list. It’s something that this school and these boys will remember for a long, long time.”
The Raiders got off to a swift start by scoring on their opening three drives of the game. But big plays from the Tigers and their shutting down Alpharetta’s rushing game kept the contest close.
Both teams incurred costly penalties that negated long gains or scores. In an especially chippy second half, two Douglas County players and an Alpharetta player were ejected following a scrum on the Raiders’ sideline.
Even with the penalties and missed opportunities, Alpharetta’s defense shut down a trio of talented Tigers’ rushers. Jack Stanton, Nick Markus, Deplores Schletty and Reid Schultz were staples in Douglas County’s backfield throughout the night, forcing errant passes with pressure. Markus and Stanton each had sacks.
“We knew they have a stable of running backs and our guys played awesome,” Nichols said. “If we can continue to do that and continue to have our bases covered we’re going to be in good shape.”
Alpharetta’s offense was forced to rely on its passing game as Nolan Edmonds and Kevin Watkins were held to minimal yardage by the Tigers’ sizeable and quick defensive line.
“We knew all week it was going to be tough-sledding through the tackles,” Nichols said. Sometimes you have to have multiple game plans and find the one that works.”
That game plan was to led quarterback Matthew Downing and his receivers lead the charge.
Downing connected with Spencer Gaddis for a touchdown on the Raiders opening drive of the game. He hit Marcus Hill for a 50-yard score early in the second quarter to give the Raiders a 17-0 lead.
Hill would also bring in the final score of the game on a nifty double move in the end zone late in the third quarter.
Receivers Luke Estes, Michael Marbaugh and Robbie Ruppel added receptions throughout the game.
Though Downing had an impressive night, he also had two interceptions. Nichols blamed himself for the first, stating he put Downing in a tough position. The second, which was returned 30 yards for touchdown to give Douglas County its only lead of the game in the third quarter, was tipped.
But on Alpharetta’s subsequent drive, Downing looked poised and connected with multiple receivers as the Raiders drove 53 yards on seven plays to reclaim the lead.
“That’s the kind of kid [Downing] is,” Nichols said. “Nothing scares him and nothing gets him upset. He had to get rid of the ball quick all night because [Douglas County] has a tremendous defensive line and he did a great job of it.”
Leading 24-21 with four minutes remaining, Downing and the Raiders offense burned clock to try and seal the victory. After nine plays the Raiders faced a fourth-and-7 on the Tigers’ 37-yard line with eight seconds remaining.
The Raiders attempted to kill the final ticks with Downing scrambling and throwing a high pass out of the end zone, but half a second remained when the ball hit the turf.
Douglas County lined up for a final Hail Mary attempt, but their quarterback was flushed out and pressured by multiple Alpharetta defenders. His pass barely left his hands as he was being taken down, a fitting end to a stout defensive performance from the Raiders.
Their defense may be without two key players next week though as All-American safety Jaycee Horn went down with an injury in the third quarter and never returned. D-lineman Mustafa Nassar also left the game with an apparent leg injury.
On Horn’s injury, Nichols said the team is “staying positive.”
“It’s something that has nagged him for a while so we’re hoping it’s something he can rehab from and get back,” he said. “But we’re going to plug in some guys and do whatever it takes.”
And they’ll do whatever it takes in the formerly unchartered territory of the quarterfinals.
Alpharetta will host Coffee next week in the third round.