ALPHARETTA, Ga. – After losing three times in their first four games – yielding 140 points in the three defeats – the Alpharetta Raiders have rediscovered their defensive skills.
The Raiders kept a dangerous Chattahoochee offense in check, turning in a pair of clutch defensive plays in the final minute to preserve a 21-19 victory last Friday night over the Cougars, keeping Alpharetta in position to finish second in Region 6-AAAAAA.
“The defense came up big at a big time,” Alpharetta coach Jason Dukes said.
After Chattahoochee quarterback Travis Marshall completed consecutive passes of 18 yards to Avery Ward and 25 yards to Collin Lisa, the Cougars were on the Alpharetta 35 and closing in on a possible game-winning field goal.
But one play after Marshall was pressured into an intentional grounding penalty, the Raiders’ Bryce Grauss forced Marshall into a hurried pass that was intercepted by Michael Downing, securing Alpharetta’s victory.
Alpharetta is tied for second in the region with Johns Creek at 3-1, with the two teams meeting the final week of the season with a home playoff game likely on the line.
The Cougars are tied for fourth at 2-2, and play the two teams they are tied with (Lambert and Centennial) the final two weeks of the season.
“We’ve lost our last two rivalry games that we’re used to winning,” Chattahoochee coach Terry Crowder said, referring to a previous defeat against Johns Creek. “This is a time for character. Sometimes tough losses create better character.”
Since allowing 43 and 63 points in consecutive losses to Lovejoy and West Forsyth, the Raiders (4-3 overall) have played well on defense the last three weeks. They shut out South Forsyth and led North Forsyth 48-7 in a 55-21 victory the two games prior to their win over Chattahoochee.
The first three Chattahoochee scores came off Alpharetta turnovers in the first half, with the Cougars (4-3) managing just one unaided scoring drive and a modest 253 yards of offense.
“The kids are playing together and playing for each other on defense,” Dukes said.
“Against West Forsyth, we had 11 guys running around, doing their own thing. The defense is coming together at the exact right time.”
The explosive Alpharetta offense again amassed ample yards (436), spread more evenly between running and passing than usual. The Raiders rushed for 172 yards, with Joshua Dobbs adding 264 yards through the air.
But Alpharetta trailed 12-7 at the half, with a Raiders fumble on the second play of the game setting up a 28-yard field goal by the Cougars’ Adam Abdellaoui. Some excellent play by the Alpharetta secondary kept Chattahoochee out of the end zone.
Dobbs drove the Raiders to the Cougars’ 3, but was sacked on third down and Alpharetta missed a field goal.
The Raiders were inside the Chattahoochee 10 on their next series, but after connecting on three passes for 52 yards, Dobbs was picked off by lineman Majeed Bilal, who returned the interception 50 yards to the Alpharetta 41.
Completions of 18 yards to Chase Nelson and 25 yards to Ward led to Marshall’s 6-yard scoring run to put the Cougars ahead 9-0 early in the second quarter.
The Raiders answered driving 68 yards, scoring on Julian Macon’s 2-yard. But Alpharetta gave the Cougars a gift of three points after a muffed punt in the closing seconds of the half set up a field goal.
Alpharetta claimed the lead for good with an 80-yard drive on the team’s first series of the second half. Dobbs broke loose for 68 yards on three runs, and Stefohn Perry went in from 2 yards out.
Dobbs rushed for 93 yards, giving him 357 total yards on the night.
Cornerback Tre Whitaker partially blocked a Chattahoochee punt, and the Raiders went 39 yards to take a 21-12 lead. Dobbs hit Rodney Morris for consecutive gains of 14 and 23 yards, and following a penalty, scrambled 12 yards for the touchdown on third-and-goal.
After a fourth-down stop at their 31 early in the fourth quarter, the Cougars went 69 yards in three plays – a 25-yard reception by Lisa, a 21-yard reverse by Alec Rubin and a 23-yard touchdown pass from Marshall to Ward.
Marshall passed for 192 yards, but he and tailbacks Nelson and C.J. Leggett managed just 15 yards rushing on 20 attempts. Nelson and Leggett carried-only times combined for minus 1 yard. Ward and Lisa totaled 155 yards on seven receptions.