The Alpharetta Raiders were willing to live and die by the passing game and in the end they survived, defeating the Douglas County Tigers 24-21 at home on Friday in the second round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
The No. 9-ranked Raiders (11-1), the top seed from Region 7, advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in the program’s 13-year history. They’ll host No. 4 Coffee next week, a No. 2 seed from Region 1 that beat Effingham County 52-32 on Friday.
The Tigers, a No. 2 seed from Region 5, end their season at 10-2 a week after winning their first playoff game since 2005.
Raiders quarterback Matthew Downing attempted 40 passes, completing 24 of them for 234 yards and three touchdowns. But he also threw two interceptions that led to 14 points — part of a 21-0 Douglas County run that saw the Raiders briefly trail.
Senior receiver Marcus Hill caught two of Downing’s touchdowns and finished with 103 yards on six catches.
“We were real effective,” Hill said. “We just had to trust each other and trust our O-line to give us time and it worked out.”
The Raiders opened on a 17-0 run, scoring on their first three possessions. Downing connected with Spencer Gaddis for a four-yard touchdown on third-and-6 to give the Raiders a 7-0 lead with 8:09 left in the first. Less than a minute into the second quarter, Dylan Schorr kicked a 26-yard field goal. On first-and-10 from the 50, Downing threw a touchdown pass to Hill on the drive’s first play with 10 minutes left in the half.
The Tigers responded on their next possession with a one-play drive of their own when Uriah West emerged from a crowded line and rushed 83 yards for a touchdown, making it 17-7 with 9:37 left in the half.
With 2:39 left in the second, Douglas County’s Markell Stephens reeled in the first of his two interceptions and returned it to the 50, though a penalty pushed the Tigers back to their own 37. Six plays later and with the Tigers facing third-and-5 from the Alpharetta 47, quarterback Marquise Collins twice avoided a sack and ran toward the sideline, where Dariyan Wiley was standing 15 yards downfield. Wiley broke toward the end zone and Collins lobbed it to him in stride, with Wiley dashing to the end zone with 0:41 seconds left to make it 17-14 Alpharetta heading into halftime.
On the Raiders’ first possession of the second half, Stephens again intercepted Downing, this time zig-zagging 40 yards on the return for a touchdown, giving the Tigers their first and only lead of the game at 21-17 with 7:20 left in the third.
“The first one was on me,” Raiders coach Jacob Nichols said. “I made a bad play call and put him in a situation where he couldn’t be successful. But we knew we had their number in the passing game. We knew it all week, and tonight just proved it.”
Despite the two interceptions and a momentum swing in Douglas County’s favor, the Raiders came out firing on their next possession, with Downing completing 5 of 7 passes for 47 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Hill that brought the score to its final margin with 3:38 left in the third.
Though the fourth quarter was scoreless, there was plenty of drama. The game was delayed for nearly 10 minutes when, with 9:52 remaining, Douglas County’s Braelen Oliver broke a long run and was met by a Raiders defender near the sideline, with their momentum carrying them out of bounds and the play ending with Oliver being thrown into the Raiders’ bench. A skirmish then broke out between players on the Raiders’ sideline, with bystanders briefly involved before referees and a police officer restored order. A player from each team was ejected as a result.
The Raiders made defensive stops on Douglas County’s three fourth quarter drives, including the final drive of the game, when Douglas County received the ball with 0.5 seconds remaining on their own 38. The last play ended in a 1-yard Collins run as he broke from the pocket to avoid a sack.
Now the Raiders are two games away from playing for the state title.
“We’re very confident,” Hill said. “We were made for this.”
Douglas County 0 14 7 0 – 21
Alpharetta 7 10 7 0 – 24
A – Spencer Gaddis 4 pass from Matthew Downing (Dylan Schorr kick)
A – Schorr 26 FG
A – Marcus Hill 50 pass from Downing (Schorr kick)
D – Uriah West 83 run (Jairo Gonzalez kick)
D – Dariyan Wiley 47 pass from Marquise Collins (Gonzalez kick)
D – Markell Stephens 40 INT return (Gonzalez kick)
A – Hill 8 pass from Downing (Schorr kick)