NORCROSS - Norcross remained the only unbeaten team in Class AAAAA with a 17-10 win over Walton in the first round of the state playoffs on Friday night.
Playing in their first home playoff game since 1991, the Blue Devils (11-0) overcame a sluggish offensive start and turned the game around in the second half, thanks in part to a a couple of huge receptions by Brice Butler and the play of the defense.
Norcross now prepares for a second-round game next Friday at home against Grayson, which upset North Cobb 22-21.
"They came with everything they had and we knew they were going to bring it," Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. "I was just as pleased as I could be. We played like crazy in the second half."
Walton running back J.J. Jackson had a great first half, gaining 88 yards on 19 carries with one touchdown. Jackson's running attack was a reason for concern for Maloof's team, but the defensive front and the linebackers stepped it up in the second half.
Jackson finished with 112 yards on 31 carries. One reason for his lower output in the second half was linebacker Dion DuBose, who tallied nine tackles, four of those for losses.
"In the first half we were down but we came together in the second half," DuBose said. "We got our defense together and fought all night."
Walton's defense kept things close in the first half as Norcross quarterback Bryce Dykes was sacked three times before the break. Norcross ran only seven plays in the first quarter but woke up late in the second quarter.
Trailing 7-0 after Jackson scored on an 8-yard run with 3:39 left in the second, Norcross took the ensuing possession and marched 80 yards on 10 plays.
On the drive's fourth play, Dykes hooked up with Butler on a 42-yard bomb to put the ball at the Raiders' 27. Five of the next six plays were passing plays, all of which were completions, with the sixth being a 10-yard strike to Butler in the end zone between three defenders for the TD. Chris Tanner hit the PAT to tie the game at 7-7 with 40 seconds left before half.
Norcross opened the third quarter with the ball on its own 20 and handed Walton a golden opportunity when Dykes, who finished with 116 yards and one TD on 12 of 21 attempts, was picked off by Michael Wharton. Wharton returned the ball to the 23 and the Raiders were in business.
However, Walton (5-6) largely went backwards, thanks to a holding penalty and a sack by DuBose. Being forced out of field goal range, Walton had to punt.
The Blue Devils were also forced to punt on the ensuing possession but received a huge break when Billy Burns muffed it and Vinny Hood recovered it on the Raider 41.
Five plays later, the Blue Devils cashed in when Demetrius Hill ran in from 30 yards out for the TD and a 14-7 lead. Hill's night ended with 60 yards on 12 carries and the one score.
Tanner padded the lead to 17-7 with 3:18 left in the game when he snuck in a 27-yard field goal just inside the left upright. That 10-point cushion almost wasn't enough as Walton charged right back and cut the lead to 17-10 by converting a 30-yard field goal with 1:22 left.
Instead of attempting an onside kick, Walton kicked deep and Norcross took over on its own 20. Walton burned all of its timeouts and Dykes converted a third-and-3 with just under a minute left to seal the win.
NORCROSS 17, WALTON 10
Walton 0 7 0 3 - 10
Norcross 0 7 7 3 - 17
Walton: J.J. Jackson 8 run (Geoff Boyer kick) 3:39
Norcross: Brice Butler 10 pass from Bryce Dykes (Chris Tanner kick) :40
Norcross: Demetrius Hill 30 run (Tanner kick) 4:43
Norcross: Tanner 27 FG, 3:18
Walton: Boyer 30 FG, 1:22
First downs 12 9
Rushes-yards 42-94 28-95
Passing yards 90 116
Comp.-Att.-Int. 4-14-0 12-21-1
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 3-25 6-45
RUSHING - Walton: Jackson 32-112; Tante 6-8; Doyle 1-4; Burns 1 (-7); Theobald 4 (-23). Norcross: Hill 12-60; Adams 3-16; Jones 4-10; Hanks 1-10; Dykes 4 (-14).
PASSING - Walton: Doyle 3-8-0, 74; Theobald 1-6-0, 16. Norcross: Dykes 12-21-1, 116.
RECEIVING: Walton: Thomas 2-56; Garrett 2-34: Norcross: Butler 3-60; Hill 3-21; Bolton 1-18; Hanks 5-17.