Saturday, December 14th was a lot different than August 24th for the Norcross Blue Devils. In August the Blue Devils were learning a tough lesson as the nation’s top-ranked team Booker T. Washington (FL) laid a 55-0 spanking on the Blue Devils at home on national television.
Norcross overcame their slow start to the season, and slow starts in playoff games, to finish strong and hoist the class 6A state championship trophy for the second consecutive season – scoring 31 unanswered points in a 31-14 win over region rival North Gwinnett.
“It just shows you in life that you never give up, because if you keep battling and you keep fighting, you’re going to get it done,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said.
Leading up to the game, we talked about Norcross’ Myles Autry being the x-factor and he lived up to it. North Gwinnett got out of the gates quickly putting up 14 first quarter points as Hayden Sphire hit Nate Brown and Caleb Scott on touchdowns passes. Dante Sawyer’s sliding interception set up Scott’s touchdown reception giving North Gwinnett the 14-0 lead with 1:28 left in the opening quarter. Both touchdowns were on Norcross’ defensive back Ridwan Issahaku.
The Bulldogs two score lead was short lived as Autry returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown and, after a missed extra point, it was 14-6 North Gwinnet. However, the momentum of Autry’s play swung towards Norcross.
“We were kind of getting our heads down and I told my team it was not over,” Autry said. “I told them I gotcha, if anything I’m not going to let this team down. They kicked it to me, I made it happen and that brought energy to the team and really got us going,” he added.
It sure did. Norcross never looked back after that. A.J. Bush found a wide open Clinton Lynch for a 34-yard touchdown and again for the two-point conversion tying the game at 14 – which held to halftime.
The Norcross defense continued to give North Gwinnett, and quarterback Hayden Sphire, fits in the second half. The offense continued to click adding a field goal, and a Bush touchdown run set up by his 65-yard completion to Clinton Lynch in the third quarter.
Enter Autry again.
On Norcross’ second play from scrimmage in the final quarter Autry streaked behind the Bulldog defense, Bush hit him in stride for a 69-yard touchdown, which was enough for Norcross as their defense did the rest. Autry finished with 107 kick return yards, 95 receiving yards and totaled 203 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns on the night. A.J Bush passed for 303 yards 2 TD 2 INT and Clinton Lynch finished with 135 yards receiving with a touchdown.
“Our receivers had a big night, quarterback and receivers,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said.
Norcross’ defense held North Gwinnett to their lowest scoring output of the season, intercepted Hayden Sphire four times and capped off a postseason where they allowed only 39 points, an average of 7.8 ppga. The stout linebacker core of Jaquan Frazier (11 tcks, INT), Kevin Mouhon (9 tcks) and Warren McWilliams (6.5 tcks) lead the defense as they had all season. Lorenzo Carter was slowed early by an ankle injury finished with 3 tackles but added 3 pass breakups. Remember Ridwan Issahaku who got picked on early by North Gwinnett? He finished with two interceptions and made the game-clinching one with 2:17 left.
“39 points in five ballgames in the state of Georgia, you gotta give it to the defense baby,” Maloof elated.
Norcross (13-2) finished ranked No.1 in the Georgia 6A poll and is ranked as high as No.16 in the latest national polls*#. The Blue Devils are the first team to repeat as state champions in the highest class since Camden County did it in 2008 and 2009.
“Coming into the season we all were kind of big headed and Booker T basically showed us that we still had work to do and that we were beatable – that loss and the earlier loss to North Gwinnett. Coach Maloof reminded us not to give up. He knew we had potential. We believed him, we practiced harder and we came out in the Georgia Dome and won another state championship,” Autry said.
“This football team, this year learned more about life, by what happen to them early on, than they did last year going 15-0,” Maloof said.
*NationalHSFootball.com ranks Norcross No. 16. #Max Preps ranks Norcross No. 23