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Norcross faces improved Dacula squad second time around

Photo: Karl L. Moore Norcross' Alvin Kamara (6) splits the tackle of Peachtree Ridge's Denzel Ozieh (88) and Devin Davidson (40) during their game earlier this season.

Photo: Karl L. Moore Norcross' Alvin Kamara (6) splits the tackle of Peachtree Ridge's Denzel Ozieh (88) and Devin Davidson (40) during their game earlier this season.

Norcross opened the season with a convincing win over Dacula.

Ten games later, the two teams meet again in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.

It should be another easy win for the Blue Devils, right?

"No, they've gotten through their region unscathed other than Grayson," Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. "They've shown a lot of improvement."

The Blue Devils (8-2) won that season opener 35-7, but since then the Falcons (7-3) have improved greatly. The winner of tonight's game gets the Valdosta-Newnan winner in next week's second round of the playoffs.

"Hopefully, the outcome will be different," first-year Dacula head coach Jared Zito said with a laugh. "It's a hot question. Everyone wants to know what we're going to do different. They are still a good team. Not a whole lot has changed with them. We are a different team than we were then. Players know the system better and the coaches know the players better. We've just grown together as a team."

Norcross may have won the first meeting, but it wasn't pretty. The Blue Devils were plagued by penalties and fumbles. Norcross managed to hit some big plays on offense, a staple for the team all season.

"Offensively, they still have three or four really dangerous weapons that can score just about anytime they touch the ball," Zito said. "We all know about No. 18 (Jason Croom) and 10 (J.T. Tolbert) hurt us last time. (Anthony) Autry is good and just when you have the passing game figured out they've got two guys in the backfield that can hurt you."

Croom is a Tennessee commitment and the senior leads the team in receiving 620 yards and 9 TDs. Running back Alvin Kamarra has topped the 1,000-yard mark and has 15 touchdowns and Joseph Wilber has thrown for 1,473 yards and 17 TDs.

Norcross started the year 5-0 before and let a 17-point second-half lead get away in a loss to region champ North Gwinnett. The Blue Devils dropped another game the following week to Peachtree Ridge, but won their last three games to secure the No. 3 seed in the region.

Injuries hurt Norcross in both losses, but the Blue Devils are expected to get offensive lineman Danny Danh back. Lineman Joseph Ledford and receiver/defensive back Anthony Autry were hurt in last week's game, but are expected to play tonight.

The season opener was a lot of firsts for Dacula. The Falcons were breaking in a new head coach and a new offense. Rocky Capobianco, who has been Dacula's biggest offensive threat this season, saw limited action in Game 1. Quarterback Brandon Goodson was making his first varsity start and running back Marcus Cox was rarely used.

"With a new coach and staff, there was some learning on both sides," Zito said. "You don't get many second chances at an opponent. But I told the team, just because you get a second try doesn't mean you'll automatically win."

After that tough loss to Norcross in the opener, the Falcons faced another defeat the following week against Mill Creek. Zito saw his team grow up a lot in the second half of that game. Dacula won seven of its next eight games, including a victory over defending state champion Brookwood. Its only loss was to No. 2 ranked Grayson.

"They're just a real solid football team," Maloof said. "We knew at the beginning of the year they would be good and they are. They've gotten a lot better and that first game is in the books. Just because we beat them the first time doesn't have any barring on this game."