Myles Autry returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to help Norcross climb out of an early 14-0 hole and then supplied the knockout punch with a 69-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter to lead the Blue Devils to a 31-14 victory over top-ranked North Gwinnett in the Class AAAAAA football championship game Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Norcross (13-2) became the first team to win back-to-back championships in the highest class since Camden County in 2008 and 2009 and the first from Gwinnett County to do it since the 2000-2002 Parkview dynasty. The Blue Devils’ two titles also extended Gwinnett’s streak to four straight in the classification, following championships by Brookwood in 2010 and Grayson in 2011.
The victory avenged Norcross’ 36-17 loss to its 7-AAAAAA rival on Sept. 13 that dropped the Blue Devils to 1-2. They finished the season with 12 consecutive wins.
Autry provided the spark in a Norcross championship-game victory for the second straight season. Last year, his 11-yard touchdown reception began an 18-point, fourth-quarter rally in a 21-14 victory over Lovejoy.
This time, the first touchdown came earlier but the swing in momentum was no less significant. Norcross had just 22 yards of total offense in its first three possessions and trailed 14-0 a little more than 10 minutes into the game, but Autry’s return got the Blue Devils back into it.
Blue Devils quarterback A.J. Bush, in particular, came alive in the second quarter. After completing just two of four passes for 13 yards in the first quarter and throwing two interceptions in the game’s first 16 minutes, he finished the half 11-for-14 for 112 yards. His 34-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Clinton Lynch down the left sideline, and his pass to Lynch on the following two-point conversion, tied the game 14-14 with 4:19 to play in the half.
Blake Bingham’s 32-yard field goal midway through the third quarter turned out to be the game-winning points. Bush gave Norcross a 24-14 lead with a 4-yard touchdown run later in the quarter, and his 69-yard pass to Autry in the fourth put the game away. Bush finished 17-of-23 passing for 303 yards. The Blue Devils were held to 47 yards rushing on 30 carries.
North Gwinnett (13-2) scored two touchdowns in a 1:10 span late in the first quarter to take a 14-0 lead. The first came on Hayden Sphire’s 5-yard pass to Nate Brown to cap North Gwinnett’s best drive of the game. The Bulldogs went 69 yards in seven plays for the score.
On the first play of Norcross’ next possession, an interception by Dante Sawyer gave the Bulldogs the ball back at the Norcross 21. Two plays later, Sphire threw 20 yards to Caleb Scott for a 14-0 lead with 1:40 to play in the quarter.
North Gwinnett’s C.J. Leggett, who rushed for 100 or more yards four times during the regular season, reached the milestone for the fifth consecutive playoff game. He ran for 106 yards Saturday and finished with 1,734 for the season and 840 in the playoffs.
Sphire completed 20 of 41 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns but threw four interceptions, although two of them came after the outcome was settled. Norcross outgained the Bulldogs 303-186.
North Gwinnett – 14-0-0-0 – 14
Norcross – 6-8-10-7 – 31
NG – Nate Brown 5 pass from Hayden Sphire (Michael D’Angola kick)
NG – Caleb Scott 20 pass from Sphire (D’Angola kick)
N – Myles Autry 92 kickoff return (kick failed)
N – Clinton Lynch 34 pass from A.J. Bush (Lynch pass from Bush)
N – Blake Bingham 32 field goal
N – Bush 4 run (Bingham kick)
N – Autry 69 pass from Bush (Bingham kick)