JOHNS CREEK - With the season nearing its halfway point, Norcross was in dire need of a Region 7-AAAAA win. With its back against the wall against Chattahoochee on Friday night, the Blue Devils came through.
Trailing 17-14 late in the fourth quarter, Norcross running back Delino DeShields burst through the left side of the line for a 16-yard touchdown run with 1:08 left, putting Norcross (2-3, 2-1) up for good and delivering the much-needed region win.
Deshields' TD capped off a remarkable 16-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up 6 minutes, 48 seconds off the clock, leaving the Cougars (2-3, 1-2) with little time to work with on the ensuing possession.
"I wanted that (touchdown) more than anybody on the field," said DeShields, who finished with a game-high 121 yards on 20 carries. "We really came out in the second half and played as a team. Everybody played with heart tonight."
After trailing at the break 17-7, the Blue Devils opened the third quarter with a 16-play, 80-yard drive, this one capped off by a 1-yard sneak from quarterback Will O'Grady.
O'Grady entered the game in the third after starter Ronald Rose was injured right before halftime. O'Grady's entrance into the game changed the offensive plan for Norcross, which switched from a shotgun spread to a power-I, a change that the Blue Devils handled well.
"I've got a football team that grew up tonight," Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. "They relied on each other, even when we had some turnovers, and I believe it was a defining moment for our kids and what they can do."
Norcross' defense forced punts on the Cougars' next two possessions but the Blue Devils had their next two drives killed with fumbles on each possession. Those turnovers nearly spelled disaster, but the Norcross defense held strong, allowing the offense to put together its game-winning drive in the fourth.
"Our defense had our offense's back tonight after those fumbles," Maloof said. "Except for the opening drive, our defense played great."
That opening drive for the Cougars also went 80 yards and ended when quarterback Timmy Byerly hit Justin Williams across the middle for a 32-yard TD.
Norcross tied the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter when Rose hit Geremy Davis in the left side of the end zone for a 10-yard TD pass. Before leaving the game, Rose finished with 78 yards and a TD on 9 of 12 attempts.
The momentum from that score quickly faded when Kevin Martin took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for the score, setting a new school record for longest kick return, putting the Cougars back on top at 14-7.
The lead would be pushed to 17-7 on its next possession when Chattahoochee's Ammon Lakip connected on a 52-yard field goal with 5:13 left before half.
The second half belonged to the Norcross defense, which surrendered just two first downs in the final two periods. Williams, who had rushed from over 100 yards in each of the last two games, was held to 41 yards on 15 carries while Byerly, who already holds the school record for rushing TDs by a quarterback in one season with nine, gained 64 yards on 13 carries and no scores.
"We needed this real bad," said Norcross running back Kendrix Huitt, who added 94 rushing yards on 20 carries. "We came out in the second half and did everything together and played as a team. It really clicked."