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Alpharetta head coach Jacob Nichols speaks to his team after the Raiders dramatic 24-21 win over Pope Sept. 20. 

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The opening weeks of Alpharetta’s season had been far from ideal. The Raiders had failed to score a point in two games, and they had compiled just 196 combined offensive yards while allowing over 600 yards to Milton and Lanier.  

Heading into Friday night’s contest, the Raiders also had the trepidation of playing without four starters, including their entire linebacker core, against an always dynamic and challenging Pope offense.

Early in the fourth quarter, Alpharetta’s struggles could have continued with the Raiders trailing 21-7 with 10 minutes remaining. Instead, Alpharetta rose to the occasion and erased the deficit in the final minutes before Bryce Troutt played the hero with a game-winning field goal with just seconds remaining.

“There are probably a lot of choice words you could use to describe the game, but it was exciting for sure,” Alpharetta head coach Jacob Nichols said. “As much as we had been through during the week and throughout (Friday) night, the kids battled and found a way to pull it out. I think at the end of the game you could definitely see it in the players faces and hear it from the emotions in their voice that they had come to the realization that we can definitely compete with anybody we play.”

Alpharetta began its charge back with their first offensive possession of the fourth quarter. The Raiders used two Pope penalties and several rushes to drive to the Greyhounds 1-yard line. That set up a touchdown rush from quarterback Will Gerdes to cut the margin to 21-14 with just under seven minutes remaining.

The Raiders defense, who held the Greyhounds to 177 yards of total offense, forced a three-and-out on Pope’s ensuing drive to set up the game-tying score. On the first play of Alpharetta’s drive, Gerdes connected with CJ Dobard for a 59-yard touchdown with five minutes remaining.

“I don’t know if we wore them down or we started to hit our stride, but we had big plays coming down the stretch,” Nichols said.

That included play on the defensive side.

 Sophomore Tyan Johnson along with Juniors Logan Rosenbluth and Tre Anderson had limited varsity experience, but all stepped up and played their part to hold Pope to 21 yards and one first down in two possessions late in the fourth of the tied contest.

“I have to give credit to those guys who were thrust into a situation they hadn’t been in before,” Nichols said. “They didn’t have a perfect performance, but they definitely helped to hold us together, and though they didn’t have much experience, they were there to make plays.”

The Raiders second defensive stop forced Pope into a punting situation at their own 29-yard line with under 30 seconds left. Alpharetta then caught a break with a short field after the Greyhounds kick moved the ball just six yards forward.

After throwing an incompletion, Gerdes used his legs to get the Raiders into field goal territory with a 22-yard run with just nine ticks left on the clock.

Pope used three timeouts to try and ice Troutt ahead of his 44-yard field goal attempt, but Nichols said the senior left no doubt on the game-winning kick.

“It probably would have been good from 55 or 60 yards,” he said.

The thrilling comeback will certainly provide a boost to Alpharetta, and despite the two losses to open the season, the Raiders are now 1-0 in Region 7-AAAAAA play, the record that ultimately matters.

“I give all credit to the players,” Nichols said. “Coaching only goes so far, momentum only goes so far, I give them credit for sticking in there. We’re hoping this is a win that will springboard us throughout the rest of the season. We are now in the home stretch, we have no more byes, and week in and week out we have to treat each game like playoff football, and I liked the response of the team.”

The Raiders got off to a promising start with a touchdown throw from Gerdes to Cam Foster on the Alpharetta’s opening drive. Gerdes was 12-25 passing for 209 yards with two touchdowns.

However, Nichols said some offensive woes the team has experienced early this season hindered the team from adding points in the first half.

Pope cut the lead to 7-6 midway through the second quarter and took the lead with a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown two minutes later.

Alpharetta drove from the own 6-yard line to the Pope 6 late in the second quarter, but a rush resulting in a 9-yard loss and a false start pushed the ball back to the 20, and Troutt’s field goal was missed to keep the margin at 13-7 at halftime.

The Raiders (1-2, 1-0) continue Region 7-AAAAAA play Friday at home against Dunwoody (2-2, 1-1). Alpharetta has won the last three meeting of the teams by an average of 37 points per game.

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