NORCROSS - A three-touchdown performance by Delino DeShields and a stellar effort by the Norcross defense sparked a 29-7 victory over Duluth, keeping the Blue Devils' faint playoff hopes alive and extending their dominance in Gwinnett County's oldest rivalry.
Norcross (4-4, 3-3) needs to win its final two games and get a little help in order to represent Region 7-AAAAA in the state playoffs, but coach Keith Maloof (now 9-2 against Duluth) told his happy players after the game to keep believing.
"We've got to keep playing hard and keep playing together," Maloof said. "We've got a big game next week against Peachtree Ridge and we've got to be ready to execute and play better football."
Duluth (1-7, 0-6) is fortunate that DeShields must have been on the football equivalent of a limited pitch count. The senior gained 170 yards on just 12 carries and had no rushes in the second half. He scored on runs of 2, 65 and 53 yards, the last one an act of sheer athletic ability, as he somehow eluded four Duluth tacklers behind the line before cutting back across the field and going the distance. Kendrix Huitt added 69 yards on 18 carries and scored on a 2-yard run.
"Our offense has some great playmakers," Maloof said. "We've got to find a way to get them in space and get them going."
Maloof was extremely proud of the Norcross defense, which he rated "an A-plus." Duluth managed only three first downs and 72 yards against the Devils and its touchdown came against the second unit. Quarterback Alex Fragoso completed 7 of 13 passes for 42 yards, but was sacked twice (once by Adrian Hubbard, his fifth of the season) and was perpetually harassed by the bigger and faster Norcross defenders.
The Norcross defense also picked up a safety, although the two points were actually self-inflicted, as the ball was snapped over the head of Duluth punter Daniel Starovasnik, who alertly downed it in the end zone.
A little largesse by Norcross kept the game close in the first half, as the Blue Devils' fumbled a pair of punts that permitted the Duluth offense to stay in business a bit longer than it possibly deserved. Despite the gifts, one which recovered by Xavier Walker, the other by Jason Ashley, the Wildcats failed to take advantage.
The turnovers didn't help the Norcross offense, which methodically drove 68 yards in 14 plays (only one gain for more than 10 yards) on its second possession. DeShields scored over the right tackle for a 2-yard touchdown to conclude the drive.
Norcross failed to take advantage of Duluth's only first-half turnover. Fragoso completed a pass to Christian Goodlet, who fumbled the ball, which was picked up by Ben Bradley and returned to the Duluth 3. But Huitt was denied by the Duluth defense, who stopped him four times inside the 4.
With the victory, Norcross now leads the series 28-16-2.