By Robert Haddocks
With its offense sputtering, Norcross had to turn to its defense. That’s not a bad option.
The Blue Devils intercepted four passes, including one returned for a touchdown, as they trounced Etowah 28-0 in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs. Norcross, the defending state champions, will host Brookwood next week.
No.1 seeded Norcross (9-2) broke open the game with two touchdowns in less than one minute. After a scoreless first half, the Blue Devils drove 50 yards on their opening drive of the second half with Warren McWilliams scoring on a 1-yard run. Two plays later, Jordan Noil jumped on a John Oliver pass and raced 25 yards for the score and a 14-0 lead. “Jordan’s pick set the tone for the rest of the half,” said Norcross coach Keith Maloof.
Since some early season lapses, the Norcross defense has shut down nearly every opponent. The Blue Devils have allowed seven or fewer points in five of their last seven games. Maloof said the defense “took some heat” after allowing 55 points to Booker T. Washington in a nationally televised season opener and 36 points in a loss to North Gwinnett. “They came to work every day and got rid of all the negative stuff and turned out a great performance in the first round of the state playoffs,” the coach said. “They’ve worked hard and been pretty dominant at times.”
Norcross limited Etowah (7-4) to 134 total yards. The run-oriented Eagles had 81 yards on 37 carries.
Maloof said he never was worried as his own offense struggled through the first half, in part because of his stout defense. “When you’re able to play great (defense), you give your team a chance,” he said. In the regular season finale, the Blue Devils came up with three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, one by Ridwan Issahaku. The senior defensive back nabbed two more Friday, giving him four in two games. Brandon Garner also had a pick.
“They’re a very athletic group and they’re very coachable,” Maloof said. “They’ve worked hard on breaking on the ball and creating turnovers for our team.”
Issahaku’s second interception midway through the fourth quarter and led to a 21-yard touchdown run by A.J. Bush two plays later. The quarterback bowled over a defender to get into the end zone. Three plays after Garner’s pick and 50-yard return to the Etowah 9-yard line, Bush floated a pass to Darian Dennis for a 5-yard touchdown.
Norcross finished with 186 yards rushing, led by Bush with 64 yards.
Neither team did much of anything in a scoreless first half. Norcross, which had five first downs, managed 92 rushing yards, 46 of those coming on runs or scrambles by Bush. The senior quarterback completed three of nine passes for four yards in the half. Etowah had just 67 total yards in the half. The Eagles missed a 37-yard field goal and had a second drive stall on an interception by Issahaku inside the 10-yard line.
Norcross – 0- 0 – 14 – 14 – 28
Etowah – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0
N – Warren McWilliams 1 run (Blake Bingham kick)
N – Jordan Noil 25 interception return (Bingham kick)
N – A.J. Bush 21 run (Bingham kick)
N – Darian Dennis 5 pass from Bush (Bingham kick)