ALPHARETTA, Ga. — In closely contested games, turnovers and special teams play have an even more significant impact. And in Friday night’s quarterfinals matchup between Alpharetta and Coffee, they proved to be the difference.
Alpharetta had three turnovers inside the Trojans’ 30-yard line and had a 27-yard field goal blocked in the 28-14 loss. It was the Raiders’ first season advancing to the third round of the playoffs.
“Every time we had a little bit of a breath of life something catastrophic seemed to happen,” Alpharetta head coach Jacob Nichols said.
“If we score every time we get inside their 20-yard line, we probably win and shock the world for lack of a better term,” he said. “Unfortunately the chips just didn’t fall in place for us.”
Trailing 7-0 in the final minute of the first quarter, Matthew Downing was intercepted at Coffee’s one-yard looking to connect with Spencer Gaddis. Coffee then drove 91 yards in four plays to extend their lead.
After pinning Alpharetta inside their own one-yard line and forcing a three and out, the Trojans had another four-play drive for a touchdown to go up 21-0.
The Raiders responded on their ensuing drive with a 38-yard pass from Downing to Luke Estes, the first of their two scoring connections.
But once again special teams play proved crucial as the Trojans returned the kickoff 50 yards. A facemask on the return set them up at Alpharetta’s 31-yard line. They went up 28-7 just three plays later.
Alpharetta cut that lead in half with an 80-yard drive for a touchdown in under two minutes. Kevin Watkins had a 42-yard rush to set up Estes’ second touchdown reception.
The Raiders looked poised to cut the lead further on their first drive of the second half, but special teams play went in Coffee’s favor again.
Coffee put pressure on Alpharetta kicker Dylan Schorr all night, and would finally get to him with a block on his 27-yard field goal attempt.
Despite missing All-American cornerback Jaycee Horn to injury and Marcus Webster to suspension stemming from last week’s game, the Raiders defense looked strong in the second half. They forced a turnover on downs just outside the red zone and set up their offense for a long drive midway through the third.
After moving the ball effectively down the field, things stalled for the Raiders in the red zone. Two plays for no gain and a sack for a nine-yard loss set up a fourth-and-16 from the 29.
Downing evaded pressure but his pass was incomplete, turning the ball back over to the Trojans.
Still trailing by 14, the Raiders converted two third downs and drove down inside the 10-yard line. Downing connected with Gaddis but he was marked short at the one-yard line to set up fourth-and-goal.
Nolan Edmonds received the handoff but was marked just short of the goal line, turning the ball over to Coffee with eight minutes remaining in the game.
It would be the last offensive possession for Alpharetta. Coffee used 15 plays to burn the final 7:47 to end the Raiders’ winningest season in program history (11-2).
“I’m proud of our kids and they have a lot to be proud of,” Nichols said. “They set a new standard around here and we’ll go back to work and hope we can build for the future.”
The loss brought an end to the careers of Alpharetta’s massive, 28-member senior class.
“I’ll never forget them, that’s for sure,” Nichols said. “We have guys who have been together since 3rd grade, guys who have been multi-year captains and multi-year starters. And not only did they have talent, they have heart and class. They definitely helped to raise the bar and hopefully the impression they leave will carry us into the future.”
Nichols believes that this season, with an undefeated run in Region 7-AAAAAA, region title and the first appearance in the quarterfinals, has certainly raised the Raiders’ program.
“When you’re left in the final eight it’s good company to be in,” he said. “Hopefully people will take notice of the community and program and that’ll create the excitement you want around a program.”