Johns Creek 31, Alpharetta 16
For the second year in a row, the Johns Creek Gladiators can call themselves region champions. Whether they can parlay that into the first playoff win in program history remains to be seen.
The Gladiators beat the Alpharetta Raiders, 31-16, to claim Region 7-AAAAAA and home field advantage through the first two rounds.
With the win, the No. 7 Gladiators move to 8-1, 7-0 in region play, while the Raiders fell to 6-3, 6-1 and clinch the No. 2 seed, as the next closest team to them has three region losses with only one week remaining in the regular season.
The Gladiators showed flashes of dominance, which allowed them to overcome 19 penalties totaling 206 yards. The Raiders had 10 penalties for 112 yards. Most flags came for personal foul penalties, as the two cross-city rivals grew testy as the game went on.
“It’s definitely a county rivalry,” said Gladiators senior quarterback Ben Whitlock, who was 13-for-27 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns. “We’re right across the road from each other, about 10 minutes away. So there’s definitely a little tension there. It was a good game.”
The Gladiators jumped to a 17-0 first quarter lead, scoring on possessions 2-4 after Alpharetta’s first three possessions ended in a fumble, then two punts.
Their first score came on a Whitlock 21-yard pass to Justin Campbell. The drive was set up by Alpharetta’s fumble, which placed the Gladiators on the Raiders’ 10 before a sack and false start made it second-and-goal from the 21.
On the Gladiators’ third possession, Caleb Adegboyega drilled a 33-yard field goal. On their next possession, Young Min Lee caught a 3-yard pass from Whitlock with 46.5 seconds left in the first.
The Raiders would score on the ensuing possession on Will Gerdes’ 9-yard pass to Cam Foster. The Gladiators gift-wrapped 40 yards of penalties to Alpharetta to aid the 70-yard drive.
The Gladiators would score with 2:05 left in the half on Whitlock’s 1-yard quarterback sneak, completing a 15-yard drive set up by Dalton Pearson’s 50-yard punt return.
After stopping Alpharetta inside the half’s final minute on the next possession, the Gladiators called timeout for another possession. However, they were called for a helmet-to-helmet penalty on the punt, which pushed them back to their own 13. On the next play, they were called for holding, moving them back to the 1. The Raiders then stuffed the run in the end zone for a safety, pulling the score to 24-9, which would hold through halftime.
The game got a little crazy late in the third quarter, when Gerdes completed a 16-yard pass to Kristofer Thomas. As Thomas went down, Gladiators linebacker Tremonte Barnett stripped Thomas of the ball, scooped it and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. However, a Johns Creek face mask was called on the play, and the officials convened for 10 minutes over whether the face mask occurred before or after Barnett gained possession. At first, it was ruled Alpharetta’s ball. Then Johns Creek’s. Then, finally, it was determined that it was Alpharetta’s possession, with the 15-yard penalty being tacked on to the end of the pass play.
On the very next play, Gerdes hit Kevin Howard for a 23-yard touchdown, making it 24-16 with 50.8 seconds left in the quarter.
That would hold until 4:02 left in the game, when Will Watson rushed 12 yards up the middle to bring the score to its final margin. The score was set up by an incredible catch from Justin Campbell:
Play of the night… Johns Creek WR @jcampbell_1_icy – Justin Campbell.. with the sick grab
— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) November 2, 2019
Alpharetta’s next possession ended on their own 20, when Gerdes was sacked for a second straight time, this for a 5-yard loss on fourth-and-20. Johns Creek would then run out the clock.
Now it’s on to the playoffs for the Gladiators, who are 0-4 in the postseason since the program launched in 2009. Last year, they blew a 20-10 halftime lead to Harrison thanks to the same type of miscues that were on display against Alpharetta on Friday.
Regardless of past postseason futility and the penalties accrued on Friday, Whitlock believes the Gladiators are poised to make a run.
“I believe we can go a long way in the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve just got to fix some things up and keep going.”
Watson finished with 39 yards on nine carries to lead the Gladiators in rushing, and Lee had 68 receiving yards on six catches. The Gladiators defense held Alpharetta to just 29 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
Gerdes was 21 of 38 passing for 185 yards and two touchdowns to one interception. His leading receiver was CJ Dobard, who reeled in five catches for 44 yards.
Alpharetta 0 9 7 0 — 16
Johns Creek 17 7 0 7 — 31
J — Justin Campbell 21 pass from Ben Whitlock (Caleb Adegboyega kick)
J — Adegboyega 33 FG
J — Young Min Lee 3 pass from Whitlock (Adegboyega kick)
A — Cam Foster 9 pass from Will Gerdes (Bryce Troutt kick)
J — Whitlock 1 run (Adegboyega kick)
A — Team safety
A — Kevin Howard 23 pass from Gerdes (Troutt kick)
J — Will Watson 12 run (Adegboyega kick)
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