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November 21, 2012JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – The 2012 high school football season did not end on a winning note for the Johns Creek Gladiators. But their lopsided loss to North Gwinnett in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs does not detract from an exceptional four-year run for the team's first senior class.
Johns Creek opened in the fall of 2009 when this year's seniors were all freshmen. After playing a partial schedule that season against other fledgling football programs, the Gladiators began varsity play in 2010 at the state's highest classification and went a respectable 4-6.
In just the team's second full varsity season, the Gladiators went 9-1 during the 2011 season, tying for first in Region 7-AAAA with defending state champion Chattahoochee, one of the two schools Johns Creek drew its students from when it opened.
The team's only regular season loss that year came against Chattahoochee in overtime 16-13. In the Gladiators' first ever playoff appearance, they lost to perennial postseason qualifier Flowery Branch 38-35 on a Hail Mary pass that was caught in the end zone on the last play of the game.
The Gladiators moved up the state's highest classification this year and enjoyed another outstanding season, going 8-2 with wins over rivals Chattahoochee and Milton. Johns Creek again qualified for the playoffs, but for the first time came up against a North Gwinnett team that was simply too big, too skilled and too deep.
North Gwinnett defeated the Gladiators 49-19, ending the high school career for the team's 25 seniors on a sour note. But they should take note of the legacy of excellence they leave behind.
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Johns Creek head coach Mike Cloy, a fixture in North Fulton high school football since the 1970s, summed up his reaction to the loss succinctly.
"Disappointment, yes; regrets, no. I told the kids there was not another group I would rather take into battle. They did everything they could do," Cloy said.
The Gladiators went 17-5 the last two seasons by playing as a team. In an area loaded with players being recruited at the Division I level, Johns Creek played without a single top-level senior prospect, and did not have a single transfer among them. The 25 seniors all began their high school careers on the Gladiators' 2009 squad.
"These kids played together since the fifth, sixth, seventh grades," Cloy said. "When they were younger, they played together or against each other. They came from two different programs, but they had a great bond for each other."
Cloy credited the group of seniors with having "a great competitive spirit and intensity. Plus they are very intelligent."
The majority of seniors play on either the baseball team or lacrosse team, with the Gladiators already factors at the state level in both sports, reaching the AAAA semifinals last season.
Of the 25 seniors, all but a handful either started or played extensively. With only four returning starters, Cloy laughed a bit ruefully when he referenced what will be "a very interesting off season."
Cloy said his group of seniors "were able to compete as much as they could. I was very satisfied with their effort every week. The coaches believed in them and they believed in the coaches."