The Georgia Class 6A championship game lived up to all of the billing even if there were only 35 combined points scored in the game.
After a scoreless first quarter Lovejoy cracked the scoreboard first in the second quarter when Alejandro Bennifield hit Jumichael Ramos on a 60-yard touchdown pass to give Lovejoy the 7-0 lead that would hold until halftime. Lovejoy dominated in the first half out-gaining Norcross 175-67 in total offense.
Lovejoy remained in full control of the football game and they could thank their defense for that as they held Norcross to only 3 points after Norcross has two trips inside the red zone. Lovejoy would grab more of the momentum with 1:34 remaining in the third quarter after a 6-yard touchdown pass from Alejandro Bennifield to Brandon Davis gave them a 14-3 lead following a fumble by Norcross. They would hold that lead until the 7:17 mark of the fourth quarter.
“Offensively we were a little frustrated because they did somethings and were able to man us up a little bit more than we thought they were going to be able to and it took us a little bit of time to work the next step and we were able to find the mismatches and got some things done”, Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said afterwards
Once Norcross found those mismatches it would all change as Norcross put together a rally that will go down in the school’s history forever as that scored 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and won them their first-ever state championship in football capping a perfect 15-0 season.
Following a Lovejoy punt, Norcross marched 62 yards in 4 plays capping it with a Joseph Wilber touchdown pass to Myles Autry from 11-yards out to trim the Lovejoy lead to 14-9 after a failed two-point conversation with 7:17 left. Autry was slowed by a left knee injury and had been used only in spots in the first three quarters but was seemingly full throttle in the fourth quarter finishing with two big receptions for 21 yards and that touchdown all coming in the fourth quarter. Autry’s presence alone seemed to infuse life into Norcross.
“Man Myles, he’s a great player, him being in the game is an extra person they have to account for. With him scoring that touchdown it gave us a real big boost, it was one of the key components that helped us pull out this victory”, Norcross running back Alvin Kamara said.
Norcross’ defense stood tall and gave the offense a shot by forcing Lovejoy to punt again. They would reward that defensive effort as Joseph Wilber hit Alvin Kamara on third-down and long for a 61-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline giving Norcross their first lead of the game 15-14 after another failed two-point conversion with 4:25 remaining in the contest.
Norcross’ defense would rise again in the biggest of moments stopping Lovejoy’s Travis Custis on fourth down at the Lovejoy 31. Custis finished with only 61 yards on 20 carries and did not score a touchdown. Alejandro Bennifield finished 11-26 180 yards two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“At halftime the defense, they were jacked up, they were ready to come out and play. It was not like they were coming out feeling sorry for themselves”, Keith Maloff stated
Kamara would do the rest scoring on a 10-yard touchdown run to cap a 5-play 31-yard drive in which Kamara carried the ball all five times. Kamara however was flagged for excessive celebration, Lovejoy took the penalty on the extra-point which Norcross missed and it was 21-14 Norcross with 1:33 remaining in the fourth.
“We got down and my team does not give up. These coaches would not allow us to give up. Some of my teammates had their heads down a little bit and I kind of hyped them back up reminding them it was not over, this is what we do, we are warriors this is what we preach all week and all year we’ve been preaching it and so we kept fighting “, Kamara said afterwards.
Brandon Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to the Norcross 47 and the Wildcats had 78 seconds to save what had been a fourth quarter to forget. They would not save it as four plays later the Norcross defense made another big play as Jaquan Frazier intercepted Bennifield’s pass at the Norcross 25 sealing the victory and state title for the Norcross Blue Devils.
“I didn’t have any doubt, I just needed my teammates behind me, my coaches and my community and we got it done. It was a team effort, you see all these Norcross fans that came out to support us and that is what really did it for us”, Kamara said.
Kamara finished with 35 carries 117 yards and one touchdown rushing, passed for 34 yards and caught two passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.
What about winning Norcross’ first ever state title in football and the ramifications of that, how does that feel we asked Alvin Kamara.
“That is what I set out to do at the beginning of the season,to be different. I talked to my coaches about it, being the first to bring Norcross to the semifinals and first to bring Norcross a state championship”, Kamara said.
So what about the head Coach Kevin Maloof who had never won a state title including a previous stop at Tucker who has won two state titles under former head coach Frankin Stephens in 2008 and 2011?
“They had to learn how to win and once they did it was all about winning region titles and winning state championships. Obviously we wish would have done it a lot earlier but by gosh we’ll take it now because it ain’t no sweeter that how it is right now, I would not trade this for anything else”, Maloof said.
Norcross is ranked highly in several national polls and with some teams ahead of them losing over the past few weeks they have an outside shot at a “national title” in some of these polls.
When asked if he would take his Norcross team up against anybody in the country Maloof said.
“Your darn right, right now I would I sure would. I’d take this team this team over any team in the country”, he said.