There have been teams to win state championships after losing their first game. Some have lost their first three. But it’s safe to say no team has won a state championship after losing its opening game 55-0.
Norcross’ season of redemption and conviction continues Saturday, when the Blue Devils try to defend their state championship against region and county rival North Gwinnett in the Georgia Dome.
Norcross has put its nationally televised debacle against Booker T. Washington of Miami in its rear-view mirror – not to mention a 36-17 loss to North Gwinnett that followed three weeks later – and won 11 straight games. The defense, led by a half-dozen or more Division 1 prospects, is allowing 7.6 points per game in that time.
‘’They didn’t waver,’’ Norcross coach Keith Maloof said of his players. “Just because they got their nose bloodied didn’t matter. We knew we were good. We just had to stay the course and block what the outside was telling us.’’
Norcross began the season with a new quarterback, A.J. Bush, a move-in learning the system as the staff was learning how best to use him. The tailback, Josh Boyd, also was new and replacing all-class player of the year Alvin Kamara. Myles Autry, an all-state receiver and return man, wasn’t 100 percent after off-season knee surgery.
Maloof’s confidence – “Everything that happened can be fixed,” he said in August — also stemmed from having 16 starters returning, including every key figure on the offensive line.
There have been 19 rematches in the state finals of regular-season games. The original winner is 13-4 in the rematch. Two original games were tied. In the most recent rematch, Tucker beat Marist 15-3 for the title after losing 38-0 in the regular season.
“We play Norcross all the time, so whether it’s 10 weeks ago or a year ago, it doesn’t matter,’’ North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire said. ‘’They’ve got guys who have grown up during the season. So have we.’’
North Gwinnett’s biggest gains have come on the offensive line and the running game. C.J. Leggett had four 100-yard rushing games in the regular season, but he’s had four straight in the playoffs, including a career-high 279-yard game in a 27-21 victory over McEachern last week.
In the first Norcross game, North Gwinnett won by exploiting Norcross’ secondary. Leggett was held to 28 yards on 13 carries. Norcross’ defense has stifled the run on most every opponent. In a 14-9 semifinal victory, Norcross held Colquitt County’s 1,000-yard rusher, Sihiem King, to 40 yards on 25 carries.
That’s a matchup to watch Saturday.
‘’Norcross just kind of shredded Colquitt’s front and took everything away,’’ Sphire said. “They’re a dominant defensive front, and their secondary has improved so much. The defensive talent they’re putting on the field Saturday is incredible.’’