ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Both Milton and Alpharetta expect to be in the state AAAAAA playoffs this season, with each team having realistic hopes of a region championship.
There are no playoff or region implications involved in the Aug. 22 season opener between the two teams in Alpharetta, but that does not distract at all from one of the metro area’s most interesting and significant early season games.
The two nearby rivals have played a series of close games in recent years, with Milton winning six of the last seven against the Raiders, including back-to-back victories in 2012 and ’13.
Alpharetta will be looking to avenge a 31-24 overtime loss last year to the Eagles, who survived a second-half offensive shutout to make it to overtime. Milton won when the Raiders fumbled on their first play in the extra period after the Eagles had taken the lead.
Both teams suffered some key graduation losses, but each has a strong returning nucleus, including both starting quarterbacks and one defensive standout each.
Alpharetta, 9-3 last season, will be led by Austin King, who passed for 323 yards and a pair of long-range touchdowns against the Eagles, but also was involved in all four of the Raiders’ turnovers.
“He’s one of the top quarterbacks around,” Milton coach Howie DeCristofaro said of King. “He’s a pure pocket passer and he’s gotten much, much better. I put him up there with Dobbs.”
DeCristofaro was referring to Josh Dobbs, Alpharetta’s quarterback in 2012 who started late in his freshman season last year at Tennessee. Dobbs led a furious late comeback against the Eagles two years ago, with Milton hanging on to win 35-28 after piling up 430 yards rushing in the game.
The Eagles, 8-3 in 2013, ran all over the Alpharetta defense for the entire game that year and for the first half last season. But the two running backs who accounted for the vast majority of those yards are now in the SEC along with Dobbs.
Milton will likely attempt to be a more balanced offensive team this season, with quarterback Austin McLeod expected to play a bigger role with the aid of transfer receiver Obe Fortune.
The Eagles should again be a strong running team with three quality returning starters on the offensive line and a tough inside runner in Mikko Brisker.
The Raiders will counter with a defense led by end Andrew Butcher, with the Eagles featuring a defensive ace of their own in linebacker Quarte Sapp. The Eagles’ mostly veteran secondary will be tested by Alpharetta’s spread, pass-oriented offense, with King losing his two favorite targets from last season but having several proven pass-catchers returning.
“We’re playing a very good team that is very good at what they do,” DeCristofaro said of the Raiders and their passing game.
The Eagles open the season with Alpharetta, last year’s Region 6 champion, and Norcross, the defending AAAAAA champion, before beginning region play.
“We’re a better team when we play non-region teams like Alpharetta,” DeCristofaro said. “That’s why we put Norcross on the schedule, too.”