ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The stakes couldn’t have been any more clear.
A win would send Alpharetta to the playoffs. A loss would end the team’s season on the spot.
The Raiders knew this, and they knew they weren’t ready to say goodbye for the year. With its season on the line, Alpharetta pitched a 34-0 shutout against Etowah and clinched a trip to the 7A state playoffs.
“Tonight was a big night for us,” Alpharetta head coach Jason Kervin said. “I don’t want to take anything away from anybody else, but our kids wanted to keep going. We weren’t done yet.”
Early on, it looked like the Raiders and Eagles were setting up for a defensive battle. Alpharetta led 3-0 entering the second quarter, with the game’s only points coming on a field goal by junior Cooper West.
Alpharetta turned up the heat in the second quarter, led by a tenacious performance from the defense. Sophomore Tyjai Hopper returned an interception for a touchdown, and senior Jack Oyola forced a fumble on Etowah’s next play. Junior quarterback Ben Guthrie, who made his first start since Oct. 8 against Woodstock, ran for a touchdown on the drive prior to Hopper’s pick-six, and right before halftime, he connected with freshman Ethan Barbour for a touchdown.
The second quarter began as a three-point game, but the Raiders’ outburst made it a 24-0 game at halftime.
“I was proud of the way our defense played,” Kervin said. “They’re playing physical. They’re playing hard. I thought it started with them. They kept us in good field position and kept getting us the ball back. We had some turnovers early, just being a little greedy and not patient enough. The defense held strong for us the whole first half. That was big.”
On Alpharetta’s opening drive of the second half, Guthrie (215 passing yds, 2 TDs, 43 rushing yds, 1 TD) uncorked a deep pass to senior Whitman Sperry, who made the catch then broke a tackle for a 67-yard touchdown.
With the clock running in the fourth quarter, West drilled his second field goal of the night to put the finishing touch on the Raiders’ win.
“It was a big one,” Kervin said. “We were worried about Etowah. They held people down and keep games low-scoring. They play hard over there, and they got us last year. We were on high alert. There was nothing guaranteed tonight.”
As the four seed from Region 5, Alpharetta (3-7) will take on the one seed from Reg. 7, the Archer Tigers (6-4), in the first round of the playoffs. If the Raiders win, they will be on the road in the second round against the winner of Colquitt County vs Walton.