CUMMING - The Norcross football program hasn't just turned a corner.
After Friday night's 34-3 win over South Forsyth, it now looks like it has stepped on the gas and sped past most of the state.
The Blue Devils, who earned a playoff berth for the first time in head coach Keith Maloof's tenure last season, are now 6-0 on the year, 4-0 in Region 7-AAAAA and ranked No. 3 in the state.
If last year was about building a playoff tradition, this year appears to be shaping up for much more.
"This team has got a purpose," Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. "These kids got there last year and know what they want to do this year.
"We're still going to take it one week at a time though, we're not going to overlook anybody."
The biggest play of Friday night's game came right before the end of the first half, and of course, it came courtesy of the Norcross defense.
Trailing 6-3, with just 41 seconds left, no timeouts and at its own 20-yard line, the South Forsyth coaching staff called a running play instead of having War Eagle quarterback Joe Babrick take a knee.
And the Blue Devils, who got two first-half field goals from Chris Tanner, made them pay in a big way.
John Schmitz was hit behind the line by Dion DuBose and fumbled, and D.J. Jones picked up the loose ball and ran into the end zone untouched for a back-breaking, demoralizing 15-yard fumble return.
"That was huge," Norcross quarterback Bryce Dykes said. "It was a real close game at that point, and that was a huge momentum swing."
Said Maloof: "It busted their bubble a little bit. And it gave us a lot of momentum."
Instead of just a 6-3 halftime lead, Jones' return made it a 10-point game at intermission.
It was the fourth defensive touchdown of the season for the Blue Devils, who have allowed just three offensive TDs on the year.
"That's our goal every week - to score at least one touchdown," said senior defensive end Brooks Cunningham, who unofficially had four tackles for loss and 21⁄2 sacks on the night. "And we really picked it up after that."
The second half was all Norcross as the Blue Devils scored on their first three possessions to put the game completely out of reach.
Dykes hit Brice Butler with a 21-yard scoring pass with 6:56 left in the third quarter, and then after a four-yard punt by South Forsyth, Leonard Foster busted loose for a 21-yard score on the Blue Devils' very next play from scrimmage.
Norcross then closed out the scoring with a 15-yard TD pass from Dykes to Donta Shepherd with 11 minutes left in the game.
"We found some things we needed to do in the second half offensively and we got it done," Maloof said.
Taking advantage of soft coverage by the South Forsyth cornerbacks, Dykes hit 13 of 24 passes for 165 yards and two scores on the night. Talented receivers Darius Hanks and Brice Butler combined for 11 of those catches for 148 yards and a score.
"I think our line did a great job," Dykes said. "After halftime we made some adjustments and they were awesome. The line gave me time to throw and get it out to our playmakers."
And Norcross has plenty of those on both sides of the ball.
South Forsyth scored on its second drive of the game - on a 37-yard field goal by Dan Middleton - but that was all the War Eagles (3-3, 2-2) could muster against a Blue Devil defense that had 11 tackles for losses, three sacks, forced two turnovers and scored one TD.
All in all, it was a tremendous overall effort by a team that is making a name for itself as one of the best in the state.
"We can't let this get to our heads," Dykes said. "We just have to stay focused on what we want to do."