ALPHARETTA, Ga. – One week after scoring the school’s first playoff victory in football, a successful season came to an abrupt halt for the Alpharetta Raiders.
The Raiders, who were riding an 8-game winning streak, were eliminated from the AAAAAA state playoffs 48-0, Nov. 22, by a ruthlessly efficient Collins Hill team.
Alpharetta’s offense, which averaged 33 points per game coming into last Friday’s contest, had been held under 23 points just once the entire season. But the Raiders (9-3) were unable to connect on any long strike passes that have been the staple of their attack, and did not mount a serious scoring threat until late in the third period, trailing 41-0.
The Alpharetta defense, which played consistently well all season, had no answers for a talented, diverse Collins Hill offense, which rushed for 211 yards and passed for 253, averaging more than eight yards per play. Until a fourth quarter punt, the only times the Raiders stopped the Eagles (11-1) were the result of a Collins Hill penalty and two Alpharetta interceptions.
“They played a really good game.” Alpharetta coach Jason Dukes said of the Eagles.
Standout Collins Hill tailback Tyler Henderson carried 18 times for 145 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 62 yards and two scores. Eagles’ quarterback Tyler Herman was 17 of 22 passing for 252 yards and five TDs, with Collins Hill repeatedly hurting the Raiders with swing passes that produced big gains along the sidelines.
“We knew (Henderson) was a difference maker and he proved it,” Dukes said. “We tried to keep him bottled up, but he hurt us. And they hurt us in the passing game. We had some opportunities to make plays but didn’t. I thought our defense would be a little more stalwart.”
The Raiders didn’t help themselves, committing nine penalties for 79 yards, primarily on offense, including four false starts on their opening series. On a rainy night that made throwing the football difficult, the Raiders were hit-and-miss through the air, with several passes that could have extended drives or produced big gains missing open receivers downfield.
Quarterbacks Austin King and Vito Priore were 20 of 34 for 219 yards with three interceptions. Two of the interceptions came in the first half before the game got out of reach, with both leading to Collins Hill touchdowns.
Trailing 14-0, King hit Daniel Clements for 27 yards to the Collins Hill 38. But the Eagles were ready for a screen pass on the next play and returned the interception 41 yards to the Alpharetta 19.
Priore took over for King and connected with Rustin Suter for 29 yards to the Eagles’ 41. But a holding penalty put the Raiders in a first-and-20 hole and Priore’s deep pass to an open Clements was under thrown and picked off by Rhyan England, who caught the first two touchdown passes from Herman.
England returned the interception 30 yards to the Alpharetta 40, and the Eagles scored with 22 seconds left in the half on a 19-yard pass down the middle from Herman to Henderson, with the pair also teaming up for the previous score.
The Eagles scored three times in the second quarter, the last two in final two minutes, to break open the game and lead 28-0 at the half.
Collins Hill scored the first two times it had the ball in the third period to take a 41-0 lead midway through the quarter, and preserved the shutout by stopping the Raiders after they drove inside the Eagles’ 10. Alpharetta attempted a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 7, but a high snap sailed over the holder.
With a running clock in the final period, the Raiders ran only six plays from scrimmage before time ran out.
“I’m proud of this group,” Dukes said. “They won eight games in a row, are region champions and won a playoff game.
“But we ran up against a tough, talented, well-coached team. We just had to play better and we didn’t.”
Through two rounds of the AAAAAA playoffs, Alpharetta is the only team with a win against a Gwinnett opponent. Gwinnett teams are 8-1 against opponents from North Fulton, Forsyth, Cherokee and east Cobb, winning those eight games by an average of 28 points. Alpharetta won 41-23 in the first round against South Gwinnett, the No. 4 team out of Region 8.
In the first round, Collins Hill trampled Walton 41-7, while Peachtree Ridge, the No. 4 team from Region 7, crushed Region 5 champion Lassiter 59-20. Collins Hill tied for first in Region 7 with North Gwinnett and Norcross, who are all in the quarterfinals along with Dacula, which knocked off Peachtree Ridge last week.
The Raiders will graduate some talented seniors, including receivers Clements and Andre Harton on offense, and linebacker Bruce Grauss and most of the secondary (DeAndre Watkins, Jay Youngblood and Chase Stratton, with the latter two accounting for the two interceptions).
But most of the offensive starters return, along with ace pass rusher Andrew Butcher, who played against Collins Hill but was hampered by an injury.