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Resilient Blue Devils seek long run

In its two biggest tests of the football season, Norcross fell flat. Those losses to North Gwinnett and Collins Hill came by a combined 80-0 margin.

That’s the bad news.

NORCROSS AT WALTON

Who: Norcross Blue Devils (7-AAAAA) at Walton Raiders (5-AAAAA)

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Walton High School (I-285 to Riverside Drive exit, go right. Make a left on Johnson Ferry Road, go five miles and turn left on Sewell Mill Road. Make a left on Bill Murdoch Road and school is on left)

Coaches: Keith Maloof, Norcross; Rocky Hidalgo, Walton

Records: Norcross 8-2; Walton 7-3

Last week: Norcross beat Mountain View 44-7; Walton beat Woodstock 20-0

Winner plays: Brookwood-Alpharetta winner

Norcross Leaders:

Rushing: Kendrix Huitt, 820 yards

Seth Hinsley, 375 yards

Passing: Matt Poole, 941 yards

Receiving: Jason Croom, 355 yards

Tackles: John McWilliams, 123

Hinsley, 97

Interceptions: Tevin Cox, 4

On the positive side, the Blue Devils won their other eight games against a challenging non-region and Region 7-AAAAA schedule. And those losses are distant memories for a team that has learned to rebound from adversity over the course of an odd season that began with a season opener played over two days because of lightning.

Norcross was 5-0 before a 38-0 loss to North Gwinnett, but bounced back with a critical win over Peachtree Ridge the following week. A Game 9 loss to Collins Hill, by a shocking 42-0 score, hurt, but the Blue Devils recovered to rout Mountain View in the season finale.

While the lessons learned in those games will help, the past doesn’t matter beginning tonight, when Norcross travels to Walton (7-3) for the Class AAAAA playoff opener. Looking forward is maybe the best trait head coach Keith Maloof’s players have learned this season.

“It’s a resilient group,” Maloof said. “As long as they stay focused and play their type of football, we’ll be alright. To win eight games in this region is pretty good and our non-region schedule was pretty tough. This group is battle-tested. We’ve just got to fight and bounce back.

“We preach it all the time, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it.”

As he rates the overall product, Maloof can’t help but be proud. The two losses stung obviously, however they are the only two blemishes in the entire program — both the Norcross junior varsity and ninth-grade teams were undefeated.

He hopes the varsity team isn’t through, either. The first step in the postseason comes tonight at Raider Valley against a familiar foe.

The two teams met in last year’s Corky Kell Classic, which Walton won 28-27, and scrimmaged each other just prior to this season.

“Our kids know their kids,” Maloof said. “And they’re much improved from earlier in the year when we scrimmaged them.”

Walton entered the season with a young, inexperienced defense, but the Cobb County team’s progress is evident in its season results. The Raiders lost to Brookwood in the Corky Kell Classic, part of a 2-3 start, before reeling off five straight wins to earn a home playoff game.

This season’s also been a success for the Blue Devils, who saw a four-year playoff streak end last year. But they’re back in the postseason, with hopes of making a run.

“It’s a big thing for our kids to accomplish that after missing the playoffs last year,” Maloof said. “It means a lot to the kids, but it also means a lot to our community and our school. And we’re not content just to make the playoffs. Six or seven years ago, it would have been good enough just to make it. Now it’s not good enough. We want to make some noise when we get there.”