Big rally by Titans falls short, dashing team’s playoff hopes



JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Northview recovered after a disastrous start against Riverwood last Friday night, Nov. 8, but the Titans had built too deep a hole to completely escape.

The Titans fell behind 19-0 early in the second quarter after a combination of fumbles, penalties and ineffective plays on offense gave the Raiders the football in Northview territory five straight times.

Northview finally got going offensively, particularly in the second half when the Titans scored on all four of their possessions. But the Northview defense was unable to contain elusive Riverwood quarterback Grant Drakeford, who led the Raiders to a 40-37 victory.

The win qualified the Raiders for the state Class AAAAA playoffs, with the Titans falling just short of what would have been their first-ever playoff berth.

“I’m devastated,” Northview coach Chad Davenport told his team after the loss. “We’re a good football team, but they got us tonight. They were ready to play and we made some mistakes at the beginning of the game.”

The Titans fumbled on their first play from scrimmage, and after holding the Raiders to a field goal, fumbled on the kickoff return. Drakeford, who rushed for 217 yards, got loose for 18 yards on fourth-and-6 and made it 9-0 with a 15-yard scoring run.

Three straight three-and-outs by the Northview offense gave the Raiders the football in Titans’ territory. Riverwood scored on a field goal after stalling inside the 10 and made it 19-0 when Drakeford broke loose for 38 yards to the Northview 5 to set up a touchdown. An interception ended the other threat by the Raiders.

At that point, the explosive Northview offense had minus 4 yards on 10 plays, only one of which produced positive yardage.

Facing third-and-2 from its 38, Northview went to its “heavy” offense, inserting short yardage running back Devan Johnson for an alignment similar to the old single wing. Johnson carried four straight times for 33 yards, and scored the touchdown on a 4-yard run after running back Nathan Phillips picked up 25 yards on a reception and run on the previous two plays.

The first half ended with the Titans trailing 19-7 following back-to-back stops by the Northview defense, including the only time all game they got to Drakeford. The Titans had a chance to close the gap, but Johnson dropped a direct snap from center on fourth-and-1 from the Riverwood 44.

After gaining just 74 yards in the first half, 70 on their scoring drive, the Titans piled up 267 yards on 23 plays in the second half. But they were able to force just one Riverwood punt, with the Raiders twice driving for scores after Northview closed the gap to less than a touchdown.

The Raiders restored their 19-point lead with a touchdown drive to start the second half before Northview’s pass-catch-run trio of D.J. Pearson, Matty Biondich and Phillips brought the Titans back.

Phillips started the next Northview drive with consecutive runs of 15 and 18 yards before Biondich made a great catch from Pearson for a 35-yard gain. Johnson plowed in from the 2 to pull the Titans within 26-13.

Phillips broke loose for 64 yards and a touchdown on the first play after a Northview defensive stop, with Johnson running for the two-point conversion to close the gap to 26-21.

The Raiders drove 80 yards with the aid of three Northview penalties, but the Titans responded with a drive of their own.

Pearson hit Biondich for 36 yards on the first play, with the two teaming up again for 15 yards and a touchdown on fourth-and 8. Johnson kept the drive going by fighting for 5 yards on fourth-and 3 and again ran in for the two-pointer to make it 33-29.

Drakeford’s 49-yard scoring run with 4:13 remaining boosted the Raiders’ lead to 40-29. But Pearson connected with Biondich for passes of 20 and 21 yards, the latter for a touchdown, and another Johnson conversion run made it 40-37 with 2:05 to play.

The Raiders recovered the onside kick and picked up a first down to run out the clock.

Phillips finished with 15 carries for 137 yards, with Biondich catching six passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Pearson completed nine of 16 passes against a blitzing Riverwood defense for 159 yards.

“They have great speed at linebacker and they came at us,” Davenport said. “Their quarterback is unbelievable. Nobody stopped them the last few games.”

The Titans finished 5-5, matching the best record in school history. The Raiders, who lost to Northview 34-32 on a last-second touchdown during the regular season, take a 7-3 record into the state playoffs.

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