ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Without two of its star players, Alpharetta still almost pulled off a determined comeback last Friday in the first round of the state Class AAAAAA playoffs.
But the Raiders came up just short, losing to Mill Creek 41-39 on a field goal in the final 10 seconds by the Hawks.
The Raiders, who finish the season 7-4, played without standout receiver Carlos Burse, who was suspended and not in uniform. Defensive end Naim Mustafaa, a UGA commitment, limped off early in the second quarter after blocking on the kickoff return unit, and the Raiders suffered in his absence.
The Hawks piled up 421 yards rushing, 343 of that total by tailback Jacorey Lewis, who scored all five Mill Creek touchdowns, including runs of 43, 37, 14 and 13 yards.
As much damage as Lewis did to the Alpharetta defense, the biggest play of the game was a 23-yard completion by the Hawks on fourth-and-10 from their 16 after the Raiders had taken the lead with just over two minutes to play.
Lewis took over from there, ripping off gains of 12, 12 and 15 yards, as the Hawks drove to the Alpharetta 2. After a penalty, the Hawks kicked a game-winning 25-yard field goal.
Their previous two field goal attempts were either blocked or thwarted by a mishandled snap.
The Hawks jumped out to a 17-0 lead after nine minutes of play, and twice led by 14 points in the second half. But the Raiders kept coming back, taking the lead with 2:19 to play on Joshua Dobbs’ fourth touchdown pass of the game and a successful two-point conversion.
Alpharetta coach Jason Dukes made the gutsy call to go for two, but in a cruel piece of irony, his decision wound up aiding the Hawks’ effort to win the game in regulation.
Had Dukes elected to kick the tying PAT, Mill Creek would have been forced to punt on fourth-and-10 from their 16 instead of going for the first down.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Hawks completed a pair of fourth-down passes to sustain a drive that produced a field goal and a 3-0 lead. Lewis took a screen pass 50 yards to set up Mill Creek’s first touchdown, and went 14 yards for his second score after the Hawks intercepted a Dobbs pass.
Under constant pressure, Dobbs escaped for two big plays, including a 13-yard pass to Adam Schildhammer for the touchdown with 52 seconds in the half. Dobbs completed 23 of 40 passes for 271 yards.
Alpharetta got the ball right back on a Tre Whitaker interception, and Dobbs and Schildhammer got the Raiders into field goal position, with Thomas Waller connecting from 35 yards to cut the deficit to 17-10 at the half.
Lewis went 37 yards for a score early in the third quarter, but Dobbs scrambled for a first down on fourth-and-2 and hit Daniel Clements for 17 yards and the touchdown.
The Hawks came down the field, but the Raiders held at the 4 and forced a field goal attempt.
Standout linebacker Bryce Grauss (13 solo tackles, three assists) blocked the field goal attempt and running back Stefohn Perry returned it 94 yards for a score to tie the score at 24-24.
Alpharetta’s lead lasted barely a minute as the nearly unstoppable Lewis scored on a 43-yard run. The Hawks scored again early in the fourth quarter after a defensive stop keyed by a sack of Dobbs.
Trailing 38-24 early in the fourth quarter, Dobbs evaded the Hawks’ rush to find Clements (four catches, 77 yards) and Schildhammer (seven catches, 83 yards) for first downs. After another scramble, he hit running back Julian Macon open down the sideline for 29 yards and a score.
The Hawks were going in for a clinching score, but the Raiders held inside the 10 and a mishandled field goal snap gave them life. Dobbs led the Raiders downfield with a 12-yard run and clutch completions to Schildhammer and Clements. With the ball on the Hawks’ 33, Dobbs teamed up with Clements again for 33 yards and the touchdown.
Dobbs calmly connected with Schildhammer for the two-point conversion pass to take the lead. But the Hawks fought back, with the key fourth-down play their only completion of the second half.
Mill Creek (8-3) has now beaten Alpharetta three straight seasons and will host Brookwood in a second-round game this week. The Raiders would have been the home team had they won, with that quarter of the bracket wide open after Brookwood beat top-ranked Lassiter.