Photo: Karl L. Moore Dacula running back Marcus Cox (9) follows the block of teammate Ryan Malizia (77) during last week's playoff game against Norcross.
A handful of Dacula's football players could barely walk off the field on their own power after last week's first round of the playoffs.
They were so mentally and physically exhausted after a last-second win over Norcross that Rocky Capobianco, Sam Hurst, Morgan Loyd and Ryan Malizia needed some time to regain their composure.
"You look at those guys and it was such an emotional game. They left everything on the field," first-year Dacula head coach Jared Zito said. "They were that gassed. I told them you have to produce that kind of effort every week."
The physical exertion resulted in Dacula's first playoff win since 2006. It's the first time Zito has won a playoff game since 2004 when he was the head coach at Spruce Creek in Florida. Now the Falcons (8-3) will host Newnan (6-5) in tonight's Class AAAAA second round of the playoffs.
"That team and this team remind me of each other," Zito said. "They were both senior laden, they had good players, but not a bunch of Division I guys, we were a team and a really tight knit group.
"This team is very similar."
Zito's Spruce Creek squad reached the quarterfinals that season, losing to defending state champion Daytona Beach Mainland. Dacula hasn't been to the quarterfinals since 2005. A victory tonight and it would face the winner of the Walton-South Cobb game.
But first Dacula has to get past a Newnan squad that upset No. 1 seed Valdosta 17-7 in last week's first round. Quinton Dix rushed for 120 yards and Newnan's defense intercepted four passes and made six sacks.
"Anyone who gets in the second round at this level, it isn't by accident," Zito said.
The Cougars are the No. 4 seed out of Region 2-AAAAA and had a 5-5 record going into the playoffs.
"You look at two of their losses are to MLK and Stephenson. You say OK," Zito said. "They lost a tight one to East Coweta, which they probably could have won. The Woodstock loss is a little mysterious since they didn't have a great season. I think they are similar to us. The last three or four games they've really started to play well."
After starting the season 0-2, Dacula has won eight of its last nine games. The only blemish was a loss to No. 2-ranked Grayson.
Dacula is on a five-game winning streak, which includes some interesting victories. The Falcons held on to beat South Gwinnett in overtime, fought off a fourth-quarter rally by Parkview and then scored in the final minute to beat Norcross last week.
"Any time you can win close ones, I think one thing you feel good about your kids in a tight ball game and they won't stop believing," Zito said.
Capobianco scored the game-winning touchdown in last week's win. The senior has rushed for 1,205 yards this season, which ranks in the top 10 in Dacula's nearly 50-year history.
Marcus Cox is second on the team in rushing and has 11 TDs. He also leads the team in receiving with 37 catches for 468 yards. Davian McEwan has emerged as a big-play threat in recent weeks. The senior caught a 38-yard pass to set up Capobianco's game-winning score.
Dacula's defense held Norcross to just 10 points in last week's game, which is quite an improvement from the 35 points allowed in the season opener.
Juanye Roberts was the star with seven tackles, one interception and a blocked field goal.
Linebacker Morgan Loyd, who had 12 tackles last week, leads the team in stops and twin brother Chase Loyd is second on the team with 63 total tackles.
Dacula's first playoff win in five years has built a lot of excitement at the school and in the community. Local businesses have put up signs supporting the Falcons and the school features banners all across campus cheering on the Falcons.
"The bottom line is everyone likes when you win," Zito said. "Winning builds excitement."