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Norcross overcomes mistakes, beats Dacula 35-7 in season opener

NORCROSS -- It wasn't very pretty, but what Norcross' 35-7 season-opening win over Dacula at Blue Devils Stadium on Thursday night lacked in style points, coach Keith Maloof and the Blue Devils will take with regard to the bottom line.

Norcross' (1-0) offense fumbled six times, but only lost one of them, and the offense rolled up 369 yards of total offense, including 207 from new starting quarterback Joseph Wilber on 14 of 24 passing, while the defense held Dacula (0-1) to just 109 total yards.

"We overcame, but we don't need to overcome those things," Maloof said. "Those things are stuff that we can control. We did that to ourselves.

"We weren't as polished on offense as I want to be, but you see the potential is there. They were stopping the run and gave us the pass, and we were able to do some things."

What the Blue Devils did mainly is keep their poise despite all the drops, plus 118 yards on 13 penalties.

And it was Wilber who led the way by keeping his poise during a key third-quarter sequence.

Dacula cut a 14-point halftime deficit to 14-7 on Marcus Cox's 1-yard run with 8:28 left in the third quarter, and Wilber drove Norcross right back down the field to answer.

More importantly, he pounced on a fumble to keep Norcross in possession deep in Dacula territory, and then handled a low snap before competing a 28-yard pass to J.T. Tolbert on third down to pick up a first down inside the Falcons' 5.

Jordan Dooley then dove in from the 2 on the next snap to push the Norcross lead back to two scores at 21-7 with 4:56 left in the period.

"That (third-down play) was big because I'd just come off an interception (on the previous posession)," Wilber said. "But my offensive line was picking me up, and our receivers -- we always have a good connection. ... That's a big confidence booster, but we know we've got things to work on."

Tanner Maloof then helped Norcross put the game away with his second TD of the game, this one from 2 yards out, to make the score 28-7 just 1:31 into the fourth quarter.

As might be expected for an early-season game, the ball and officials' penalty flags both hit the ground with alarming regularity in the first half.

The two teams combined for seven fumbles -- three of them lost -- and 12 penalties worth 93 yards in the first 24 minutes.

Norcross put the ball on the ground three times on its first offensive possession alone, but recovered all three fumbles.

That allowed the Blue Devils to complete a 14-play, 82-yard drive that consumed 6:17 of the clock and ended with Tanner Maloof's 5-yard touchdown run, putting Norcross in front 7-0 with 2:44 left in the opening quarter.

After missing wide on a long field-goal attempted early in the second quarter, Norcross cashed in on its next march deep into Dacula territory.

This time, Norcross picked up two third-and-long situations on Wilber passes, the latter a 25-yard strike to Anthony Autry for a score that extended the lead to 14-0 with 6:25 left in the half.

It looked like Dacula might fight back into the game late in the half, when a high snap forced Norcross punter to run for his life, which gave the Falcons possession at the Blue Devils' 37 with 1:57 left in the half.

The Falcons actually scored on a 23-yard swing pass from Brandon Goodson to Cox, only to have the play called back on an illegal block.

And a bad exchange on a handoff two plays later was pounced on by Norcross defensive lineman Kevin Mouhon at the 21 with 35.3 seconds left, allowing the Blue Devils to take their 14-0 lead into intermission.

It illustrated how Dacula couldn't quite do what Norcross did -- overcome its own mistakes.

"It definitely was sloppy on both ends," Falcons coach Jared Zito said. "Offensively, we couldn't get into a rhythm. ... We got into that third quarter and had some opportunities, but it kind of slipped away.

"That's part of the game. We've just got to do a better job responding."