JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Johns Creek continued to roll Friday night and earned a shutout win over a talented Pope (4-3, 3-2) squad in Marietta. The Gladiators (5-1, 4-0) held Pope scoreless for the first time since 2015 and were led offensively by five touchdowns from quarterback Ben Whitlock.
It is no small task to hold Pope’s dynamic and quick offense out of the end zone, and Johns Creek head coach Matt Helmerich was particularly pleased with his team’s defensive play.
“They were just flat-out awesome,” he said. “We were fortunate enough to have an extra bye week to prepare for their offense, because it is a pain in the butt to prepare for. We required the kids to line up and play with toughness and they did that all night. Pope is a tough team. They’ve been a playoff team the past two years and probably will be this year. And to shut them down is pretty neat.”
The Greyhounds were held to just five first downs, 105 yards of total offense and were 1-12 on third-down conversions.
Johns Creek safety John Stegenga and linebacker Dominick Ledesma also forced interceptions. Stegenga’s pick, his third in two games, came with Pope knocking on the door of the end zone.
“We have been great this year at coming up with turnovers at the right time,” Helmerich said. “Sometimes in the past, teams would get in the red zone and we didn’t bow up, but we have been doing that and we are coming up with turnovers in the red zone.”
While the Gladiators defense stymied Pope, their offense lit up the scoreboard behind an impressive performance from Whitlock. The senior passed for 376 yards with five touchdowns.
Helmerich said Pope’s defense was giving space to Gladiators receivers, and Whitlock took advantage.
“They were playing off, and he took what they gave him,” he said. “There was not a lot of deep stuff, but we have pretty good receivers, so [Whitlock] was getting it out to the playmakers and letting those guys work.”
Dalton Pearson hauled in touchdown receptions of 37 and 62 yards in the first quarter. The senior has nine touchdown grabs on the season.
Justin Campbell also found the end zone twice. After Stegenga’s interception in the second quarter, Whitlock hit Campbell for 9-yard touchdown to put the Gladiators up 21-0. Following a 10-yard touchdown reception from Garrett Gauthreaux early in the fourth, Campbell and Whitlock connected for another touchdown to put the margin at 38-0.
The Gladiators’ offensive line had a strong game in the trenches to allow Whitlock and his receivers to pad their stat sheets.
“We joke that we might be the smallest offensive line in the state, but those kids fight,” Helmerich said. “Coach (Bronson) Sweatt does a great job with those guys and they do get better every week. You can’t put up almost 500 yards without the offensive line doing their job.”
The Gladiators retained their spot atop the Region 7-AAAAAA standings with the win, tied with Alpharetta at 4-0 in region games.
The defending region champs will bring their 12-game 7-AAAAAA streak back home Friday to take on Cambridge (3-3, 2-2).
“Cambridge always plays us tough,” Helmerich said. “The first time Johns Creek ever beat them was last year. Coach (Craig) Bennett does a good job with those guys.”