Football: Milton Eagles face tough opener vs. Raiders

Both teams replacing 2012 standouts

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MILTON, Ga. – The Milton Eagles are not exactly easing into the 2013 high school football season.

Milton traveled almost to the Florida border to play its pre-season scrimmage game against perennial state power Camden County, and open the regular season this Friday at home against Alpharetta, expected to be the top team in North Fulton this season.

Milton coach Howie DeCristofaro said the Eagles put up a respectable showing against Camden County, trailing 20-7 until the Wildcats’ reserves scored three late touchdowns to win 40-7.

The Eagles scored on a kickoff return by Chad Tolliver and had a few other scoring opportunities they were unable to convert. The Wildcats used their speed and talent to score their first three touchdowns on big plays.

“We took a seven-hour bus ride to see what a real playoff team looks like,” DeCristofaro said. “I thought we played really well for most of the game. But we’re so young. It will be several weeks to get where we want to be.”

The Eagles open the season against Alpharetta, with both teams suffering heavy graduation losses after making playoff runs in 2012. Milton tied for second in Region 5-AAAAAA with a 7-3 overall record, with Alpharetta tying for first in 6-AAAAAA, also finishing the regular season 7-3. Both teams lost their state playoff openers.

Both teams return an offensive standout – running back Treyvon Paulk for the Eagles, wide receiver Daniel Clements for the Raiders. Paulk rushed for 930 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Clements caught 60 passes for 1,286 yards and 12 scores.

Most of the teams’ primary weapons from last season are gone, leaving DeCristofaro and Alpharetta coach Jason Dukes to look for players to take some of the offensive burden off Paulk and Clements.

The Eagles have to replace three Division I offensive linemen and standout DE Carl Lawson, but return at least one defensive standout – linebacker Quarte Sapp.

Milton will face an entirely different challenge in the regular season opener compared to the scrimmage game, as the Raiders throw the ball all over the field out of their spread formation, as opposed to Camden’s run-oriented wing-T.

The secondary appears to be one of Milton’s defensive strengths, with the Eagles needing some quality play from their defensive backs to keep Alpharetta in check Friday.

DeCristofaro had yet to decide on a quarterback a little over a week prior to the opener, with three players seeing action at the position against Camden.

Milton won last year’s season opener 35-28 at Alpharetta, piling up 431 yards rushing and building a 35-14 lead late in the game before the Raiders made a furious last-minute comeback attempt.

The Raiders will be without all-state quarterback Josh Dobbs, now a freshman at Tennessee, but the team has replaced a string of standout QBs in recent years with no ill effects.

Although Alpharetta also graduated some defensive talent, the Raiders are expected to be better on defense this season. Milton will find it difficult to replace Lawson’s pass-rushing skills, with DeCristofaro looking closely at the early play of his team’s defensive line.

In other local games Friday night, Cambridge opens its season at Riverwood, King’s Ridge Christian is at home against Pinecrest Academy and St. Francis hosts Mount Vernon Presbyterian.