Football: Johns Creek shines in preseason scrimmage win over Hapeville Charter

By Zach Shugan

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — It’s crazy to think a season which included a trip to the 6A state playoffs could be described as a down year, but considering Johns Creek won back-to-back region titles in 2018 and 2019 without losing a single game of region play, 2020 was a bit of a down year for the program. The Gladiators finished the season 4-5 overall after one-seed Allatoona bounced them from the playoffs in the first round.

2021, however, looks like it will be a bounce-back year for Johns Creek.

The Gladiators hosted Hapeville Charter for a preseason scrimmage Friday night and won 30-14 after jumping out to 24-0 lead in the first half. They left little doubt they have the talent to return to contending for a region title — and possibly more.

“We came out in the first half and lined up right and played hard,” Johns Creek head coach Matt Helmerich said. “Had some big plays and we got off the field on defense…I’m pleased. It was a good effort. A lot of things to clean up before next week but that’s why we got practice.”

The Gladiators started hot on offense with their new quarterback Kyle Durham finding Terian Williams II for multiple big plays through the air. The senior duo connected three times on the game’s opening drive, including a 47-yard touchdown pass to put Johns Creek in front.

Johns Creek seniors Terian Williams II (#9) and Brandon Palmer (#7) celebrate following Williams’ first-quarter touchdown reception. (Zach Shugan)

On their next drive, sophomore running back Antonio Gilliam took his first handoff of the game and went 51 yards for a touchdown.

The Gladiators’ defense came up with a turnover near the end of the first quarter, as junior Sam Oppenheimer intercepted a screen pass in Hapeville territory. Johns Creek cashed in with a 34-yard field goal by McRae Ball and took a 17-0 lead over the Hornets.

The Gladiators weren’t done adding to their lead, though. Durham launched a deep ball down the sideline to senior Joshua Thompson (who might have been the player of the night with his seven receptions for 165 yards) for a 67-yard gain which moved Johns Creek inside Hapeville’s 5-yard line. Durham was then able to keep it himself for a quarterback sneak, and Ball hit the extra point to put the Gladiators up 24-0 with 7:37 left in the second quarter.

The first-team offense played one final drive in the second half, and they took advantage of it. Durham found Brandon Palmer over the middle for a 13-yard touchdown, answering Hapeville’s touchdown from the previous drive to make it a 30-8 game.

Johns Creek senior Tyler Gibson (#75) blocks a defender during the Gladiators’ preseason scrimmage against Hapeville Charter. Gibson committed to Georgia Tech in June. (Zach Shugan)

“We definitely have some playmakers on offense,” Helmerich said. “The offensive line did a phenomenal job, especially in pass blocking to free up Kyle.”

With Johns Creek’s starters on the bench for the rest of the night, Hapeville scored again early in the 4th quarter on a 61-yard touchdown pass.

Otherwise, that was all the Hornets’ offense could muster on the Gladiators’ defense through 48 minutes of football.

“[Hapeville Charter] has some guys,” Helmerich said. “They got some dudes over there. They’re going to win a lot of football games, so to shut them out first half was good. I rotated some guys in for the second half. We gave up a couple big plays, and that’s one thing we’re going to work on this week is playing sound football and not giving up those big plays.”

6-foot-6 sophomore Alex Cunningham (#99) headlines Johns Creek’s 2021 defensive line. (Zach Shugan)

Johns Creek will start its regular season Aug. 20 at Gainesville as part of the Corky Kell Classic. The game is set to kick off at 5:30 at Gainesville City Park and will be televised locally by CBS 46/Peachtree TV.

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