ALPHARETTA, Ga. – For a program that has enjoyed exactly two winning seasons this century, the Milton Eagles began their 2012 schedule with lofty expectations.
The Alpharetta Raiders also are aiming high this season and a full house showed up to watch this early season showdown. Fans were not disappointed, as an outmatched Alpharetta would not give in to a tough Milton team.
The Eagles lived up to their pre-season billing with an impressive 35-28 victory at Alpharetta last Friday night, surviving a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Raiders, who scored twice in a 20-second span in the final two minutes and got the ball back a third time with a chance to tie in the last 30 seconds.
“This is phenomenal for us,” second-year Milton head coach Howie DeCristofaro said. “This sets a tone for the rest of the year. We beat a team that won its region and went 9-1 last year on their field. It’s something we needed to get started.”
The Eagles won the game by dominating both lines of scrimmage. With its large, talented offensive line and two standout running backs, Peyton Barber and Treyvon Paulk, Milton hammered the Raiders for 431 yards rushing. Barber and Paulk combined for 333 of those yards.
The Milton defensive front, led by Carl Lawson, put enough pressure on Alpharetta quarterback Joshua Dobbs to keep him from getting the ball down the field to the Raiders’ dangerous group of receivers.
Dobbs, who had a hand in all four Alpharetta touchdowns, hurt the Eagles more with his legs than his arm, rushing for 128 yards. And despite the pressure, Dobbs was 20 of 39 through the air for 234 yards and two scores. But only four of his completions went for more than 12 yards.
The Milton secondary, led by Jerrell Knight, Joe Phillips and Zach Spiezio, contained Alpharetta’s receivers most of the night. The Milton defensive front completely shut down the Raiders’ running game with the exception of a half dozen escapes by Dobbs, who displayed some big-time running skills.
“We just didn’t make the plays,” Alpharetta coach Jason Dukes said. “But we didn’t give up and made it a ball game at the end.”
Both teams put together long drives on their opening possessions, with the Raiders holding the Eagles to a field goal to lead 7-3 before Milton scored in the final 30 seconds of the second period to go up 10-7 at the half.
Barber, who rushed for 174 of his 226 yards in the second half, broke loose for 65 yards on the first play of the third quarter to set up a second Chris Mills field goal.
On the next series, the Raiders tested the Milton defense after getting to a second down and short yardage at their 40. But the Raiders were forced to give back the ball on downs after being stuffed on three straight short-yardage runs.
On the first Milton play, Paulk bounced off tacklers at the line of scrimmage and reversed his field for a 41-yard scoring dash. Barber dived in for the two-point conversion and a 21-7 Milton lead and some breathing room late in the third period.
But the Raiders struck back when Dobbs hit Carlos Burse (four catches, 100 yards) for 48 yards. Then Dobbs went on a 24-yard scramble and was tackled just shy of the end zone, with Alpharetta lineman DeAndre Wise recovering Dobbs’ fumble in the end zone.
Then the Eagles scored twice in the final period to break the game open. Barber went 41 yards to the Alpharetta 2 and Paulk, who rushed for 107 yards, scored on the next play.
After an interception by Knight, the Eagles drove 70 yards with quarterback A.J. Bush setting up his nine-yard score with a 26-yard run to the Alpharetta 10.
Bush rushed for 78 yards to offset an ineffective night throwing the ball, as the Eagles passed for just 28 yards.
The Eagles led 35-14 with less than two minutes to play, but the Raiders showed what they were made of.
First, Dobbs hit Burse for 32 yards to the Milton 9 and connected with Daniel Clements (seven catches, 77 yards) for a TD on the next play to close to 35-21.
Alpharetta recovered the onside kick, and on the first play, Dobbs evaded a host of Milton tacklers for a 46-yard score to close the gap to seven points. But a second Alpharetta onside attempt failed.
The Raiders got the ball back at their 30 with about 30 seconds remaining, but a holding penalty ended their slim hopes of victory.