Alvin Kamara had been held relatively in check for most of the night in the Class AAAAAA championship game on Saturday, but he broke loose at just the right time for Norcross.
The senior running back scored on a 61-yard reception and a 10-yard run as the Blue Devils (15-0) rallied from a 14-3 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Lovejoy 21-14 at the Georgia Dome and claim the first state title in school history.
The championship is the third consecutive for Gwinnett County, following Brookwood in 2010 and Grayson last year. The last time a team from Gwinnett or the current Region 1 did not win at least a share of the title in the highest classification was in 1995, when Quincy Carter led Southwest DeKalb to the Class AAAA title. It was the second consecutive loss in the final for Lovejoy (13-2), which lost to Tucker 22-7 in AAAA last season.
“It just feels awesome,” Norcross coach Keith Maloof said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of how our kids fought, being down 7-0 and things not going our way in the first half. They’ve got a heck of a football team. We had some problems blocking them, but we found a way.”
Maloof and his father, the late George Maloof of St. Pius, become the third father-son duo to coach their teams to state championships in Georgia. Sandy Creek’s Chip Walker and his father Rodney were the first, and Calhoun’s Hal Lamb and his father Ray joined the select group last season.
The game was billed as a showdown between two of the state’s top running backs – Kamara and Lovejoy’s Travis Custis – but both were held below what might be expected of two 2,000-yard rushers, at least until Kamara took over in the fourth quarter.
Kamara finished with 119 yards rushing on 33 carries but had only one run of more than 10 yards. He also had three receptions for 67 yards and completed a pass for 34 yards. Custis had 60 yards on 20 carries for the game but just 4 yards on 11 carries in the second half.
Lovejoy led 14-3 after a 6-yard touchdown pass from Alejandro Bennifield to Brandon Davis with 1:34 remaining in the third quarter before the Blue Devils made their comeback.
Norcross scored three touchdowns in the final 7:17 of the game, and the spark came from Myles Autry, the team’s leader in receptions this season who played sparingly because of a knee injury he suffered in the semifinals against Colquitt County. His first catch of the night was an 11-yard touchdown reception from Joseph Wilber that cut the lead to 14-9.
Lovejoy was forced to punt on its next possession, and Norcross took over at its 38-yard line with 5:28 left. On the fourth play, Wilber found Kamara down the left sideline for the 61-yard touchdown. The Blue Devils’ two-point attempt failed, but Norcross had the lead at 15-14 with 4:26 to play.
Lovejoy turned it over on downs at its 31 on its next drive, and Kamara scored on the 10-yard run six plays later to make it 21-14 with 1:33 remaining. Lovejoy’s last-gasp drive ended in Norcross territory when Bennifield was intercepted by Jaquan Frazier.
Bennifield was 12-of-26 passing for 182 yards and had a 60-yard touchdown pass to Jumichael Ramos that was the only scoring in the first half. Lovejoy finished with 237 yards of total offense but was held to 65 in the second half.
Norcross’ Wilber completed 7 of 15 passes for 110 yards as the Blue Devils had 295 yards of total offense.
Lovejoy – 0-7-7-0 – 14
Norcross – 0-0-3-18– 21
L – Jumichael Ramos 60 pass from Alejandro Bennifield (Jaime Nunez kick)
N – Joseph Mahfood 31 field goal
L – Brandon Davis 6 pass from Bennifield (Nunez kick)
N – Myles Autry 11 pass from Joseph Wilber (pass failed)
N – Alvin Kamara 61 pass from Wilber (run failed)
N – Kamara 10 run (kick failed)