Though it came down to the final seconds, the Johns Creek Gladiators won a game they never trailed and hung on for a 20-14 victory over the Alpharetta Raiders on Friday at The Colosseum in Region 7-AAAAAA action.
The Gladiators (6-2, 5-1) hold at least a share of first place in Region 7 with the win, as Cambridge and Centennial both entered Friday with a 4-1 record. The Raiders dropped to 4-3 and 3-2 in league play.
Though the Gladiators led by as much as 17-0 in the first half, the Raiders pulled to within the game’s final margin and had the ball on the Johns Creek 9 on fourth down with 10 seconds left. But the Gladiators made a defensive stand, deflecting Matthew Downing’s pass to force a Raiders turnover on downs to effectively end the game.
“We would have rather put it away in the first half, sure,” Gladiators coach Matt Kemper said. “But it doesn’t matter as long as you get the end result, right?”
The Gladiators jumped to a three-score lead with a Jake Friant 34-yard field goal, a 29-yard run from Matthew Taylor and a 65-yard touchdown pass from Matt Kriteman to Zach Williams. Kriteman was a running back on the scoring play and received a pitch from quarterback Zach Gibson before heaving it to a wide-open Williams. Kriteman’s pass gave the Gladiators a 17-point lead with 5:38 remaining in the half.
Alpharetta got on the board with 2:54 left in the second quarter on Matthew Downing’s 22-yard touchdown run. On Johns Creek’s ensuing possession, Raiders defensive back Jaycee Horn made an interception in the end zone to stop the Gladiators’ drive on the Alpharetta 7 and bring the game to halftime.
The Raiders opened the second half with a 15-play, 80-yard drive that ended with an Ellis Merriweather 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down to pull Alpharetta to within 17-14. The scoring run was Alpharetta’s second fourth-down conversion of the drive.
But the Raiders wouldn’t get any closer and the Gladiators added a little cushion with a 48-yard field goal from Friant with 17.8 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Gladiators were led by Williams, who in addition to his touchdown reception had a pair of highlight reel one-handed catches and totaled 167 receiving yards on six catches. Taylor had 122 rushing yards and a score on 20 carries and Gibson was 13 of 20 passing for 202 yards.
Downing was 19 of 31 passing for 145 yards for the Raiders, and Marcus Hill was their leading receiver with 42 yards on three catches. Merriweather had 54 rushing yards on 18 carries.
The Gladiators are on bye next week and next play at North Atlanta on Oct. 28, while the Raiders host Cambridge next week.
Alpharetta 0 7 7 0 - 14
Johns Creek 10 7 3 0 - 20
J - Jake Friant 34 FG
J - Matthew Taylor 29 run (Friant kick)
J - Zach Williams 65 pass from Matt Kriteman (Friant kick)
A - Matthew Downing 22 run (Dylan Schorr kick)
A - Ellis Merriweather 1 run (Schorr kick)
J - Friant 48 FG