NORCROSS - The Norcross Blue Devils defeated Grayson twice last season. Now they're going to have to do it again to keep their dreams of a state championship alive.
"We've beat them three straight times," Norcross quarterback Nick Sorel said. "We can do it again."
"They know us and we know them," coach Keith Maloof said. "Right now, I'm just glad to still be playing."
Etowah almost dashed Norcross' postseason dreams before the Blue Devils got to the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs.
Not playing nearly as well as it had a week earlier in beating North Gwinnett for the Region 7-AAAAA title, Norcross trailed in the third quarter before ousting Etowah 21-19 Friday night at chilly Blue Devils Stadium.
"I don't think we had a letdown," Sorel said. "We just didn't click on some things in the first half."
"No, we were ready to play," Norcross tailback D.J. Adams said. "It just took us a while to get going."
Sorel threw two second-half touchdown passes and No. 3-ranked Norcross (10-1) held on despite not being able to stop Etowah's Todd Poore.
Poore ran for 164 yards and three touchdowns. But the Eagles (7-4) weren't able to overcome a fourth-down gamble that failed.
Down 14-13, Etowah coach Bill Stewart ordered a fake punt on fourth-and-10 from his own 20 early in the fourth quarter and the pass fell incomplete.
Norcross quickly took advantage. Sorel hit Brice Butler with a 3-yard TD pass and Chris Tanner added his third extra point with 8:39 remaining.
The game was far from over, however.
Etowah drove 80 yards in just seven plays, with Poore scoring from the 5 with 5:08 left. The Eagles tried for two to tie the game, but the snap was fumbled.
Given a reprieve, Norcross then ran out most of the remaining time before turning over the ball on downs at the Etowah 3-yard line. The Eagles managed to get off seven plays in the final 40 seconds, but couldn't get past the 25-yard line.
"Give Etowah credit," Maloof said. "They came in here and gave us a battle."
"It was a tough game, but we're 1-0 in the playoffs," Adams said. "That's all that matters."
With Etowah keying on Adams, Sorel threw 25 times, completing 15. He was 8-for-9 in the second half, with 24-yard touchdown strike to Devonta Bolton preceding his short TD pass to Butler.
Butler, who has committed to play at Southern California, caught eight passes as Norcross had 132 yards in the air.
Adam, who came in with consecutive 200-yard games, carried 23 times for 108 net yards.
Norcross drove 93 yards for a score on its second possession, but the Devils were held without a first down the rest of the first half.
Adams' 3-yard run capped the 13-play drive with 1:11 left in the first quarter. Adams broke off a 32-yard scamper during the march and Sorel, who had a 19-yard scramble, completed a fourth-down pass to Butler.
Etowah, however, countered the Norcross scoring drive with an 80-yard, 10-play march that was aided by a pass interference call. The touchdown came on a 9-yard run by Poore and Omar Lopez added the tying extra point with 8:43 left before halftime.
Norcross had 104 nets yards in the first half - 58 rushing and 46 passing. Sorel had a pass intercepted in the end zone as the Blue Devils failed to take advantage of a short Etowah punt late in the second quarter.
The Eagles took the lead with 4:39 remaining in the third quarter after a Norcross fumble set them up at the 34-yard line. On the third play, Poore ran 24 yards for the score, but Lopez's extra point attempt misfired.
That was a big play. The gamble by Etowah was even bigger. Now Norcross has another meeting with Grayson at home next Friday.
Norcross had to go two overtimes to beat Grayson 27-21 in the second round of the playoffs last year. The Blue Devils won 24-3 in September this season.
"I know they're a better team now, but so are we," Adams said.
"I think we match up well with them," said Sorel.
"Grayson has a very good team," Maloof said. "But you have to beat good teams if you want to play for a state championship."