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Norcross storms back to beat Collins Hill

Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross wide receiver Tyler Williams (8) scores a touchdown with Collins Hill defensive back Conner Boston (10) riding his back during the first quarter of Friday's game. This was the first score of the game.
 Staff Photo: John Bohn Collins Hill quarterback Brett Sheehan(12) runs the ball while Norcross linebacker Tommy Tate gives chase during the first quarter of Friday's game.
 Staff Photo: John Bohn Collins Hill quarterback Brett Sheehan (12) is tackled by Norcross linebacker Tanner Maloof (44) and defensive lineman Issiah Hinsley (50) during the first quarter of Friday's game.
 Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross quarterback Joseph Wilber (7) takes a high snap while eyeing wide receiver Tyler Williams (8) for a handoff during the first quarter of Friday's game. 

Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross wide receiver Tyler Williams (8) scores a touchdown with Collins Hill defensive back Conner Boston (10) riding his back during the first quarter of Friday's game. This was the first score of the game. Staff Photo: John Bohn Collins Hill quarterback Brett Sheehan(12) runs the ball while Norcross linebacker Tommy Tate gives chase during the first quarter of Friday's game. Staff Photo: John Bohn Collins Hill quarterback Brett Sheehan (12) is tackled by Norcross linebacker Tanner Maloof (44) and defensive lineman Issiah Hinsley (50) during the first quarter of Friday's game. Staff Photo: John Bohn Norcross quarterback Joseph Wilber (7) takes a high snap while eyeing wide receiver Tyler Williams (8) for a handoff during the first quarter of Friday's game. 

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NORCROSS -- Down 21-7 to Collins Hill late in the first half, it looked like Norcross' midseason slumber was destined to continue.

Then the Blue Devils suddenly returned to their early-season form, looking more like the team that was dominant in a 5-0 start to the season and less like the one that stumbled twice in its past three games.

Norcross reeled off 35 straight points after the early deficit and outscored Collins Hill 29-0 in the second half, winning 42-21 and securing the No. 3 seed from Region 7-AAAAA in the upcoming state playoffs.

"I'm real proud of them because they've worked through a lot this season," said Norcross head coach Keith Maloof, whose team finishes the regular season at Mountain View next week. "We hit a lull there, but we worked through the lull. It's a long season and things like that are going to happen. But we stayed the course. If you stay the course, good things will happen."

Much of the positive came from quarterback Joseph Wilber.

The junior completed 12 of 15 passes for 187 yards and four touchdowns, two to Jason Croom. His 61-yarder to Croom late in the first half started the comeback and his running in the second half - nine rushes for 48 yards - helped keep the Eagles (4-5, 3-3) off balance.

Alvin Kamara also had another big night with 16 carries for 139 yards, with a 75-yard TD run late in the third quarter for the go-ahead score. He also had an 86-yard TD run in the first half wiped out by a holding penalty.

Norcross scored on five straight possessions before its last drive to run out the clock.

"We were confident at halftime, we knew we could do it," Wilber said. "The defense stepped up. We needed one stop and a score (to start the second half) and that's what we got."

Defense was just as big for Norcross (7-2, 4-2) in the comeback.

Collins Hill quarterback Brett Sheehan completed 8 of 9 passes and rushed for 59 yards in the first half, but was 4 of 13 with an interception and had minus-10 yards rushing in the last two quarters.

Anthony Autry and Tommy Tate picked off passes for the Blue Devils, Domonique Mason had two sacks, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery and Kristopher Beauchamp had a sack and two tackles for losses. Mason's fumble recovery came off a sack by teammate Jahmal Jones that stopped the Eagles' first second-half possession.

"I'm just impressed with our defense, in the second half, and overall," Maloof said. "We have a group of defensive players that love each other and play together well."

Norcross' rally started with a five-play scoring drive before halftime that was aided by a pass interference on third down. Wilber finished the drive with a 61-yard TD pass to Croom, who broke free from three attempted tacklers and then raced the final 45 yards untouched.

Jones' sack on the fourth play of the second half set up the hosts on the Collins Hill 35-yard line, and a short TD run by Kamara and his two-point catch from Wilber tied the score.

The Eagles tried to answer, but missed a 39-yard field goal. Three plays later, Kamara darted through the line for a 75-yard TD with two minutes left in the third quarter.

Wilber's 31-yard TD pass to Autry, who broke through a pack of Eagles like Croom on his TD, made it 35-21 less than three minutes into the fourth quarter. After a three-and-out, Norcross went for it on fourth-and-8 and got a 16-yard TD pass from Wilber to Croom, who outjumped a defender in the corner of the end zone.

"Offensively, we found some things that worked and mixed it up," Maloof said. "It worked out well for us tonight."

The Blue Devils' got off to a quick start in the first quarter when a Collins Hill trick play failed and led to the game's first score. The Eagles' halfback pass was intercepted by Autry, who returned the pick to the Eagles' 8-yard line. From there, Wilber hit Tyler Williams on an 8-yard slant for a score.

But Collins Hill scored on its next three possessions, the first on a 47-yard TD run by Nick England. Sheehan threw for the next two scores, a third-and-goal, one-yard pass to Jordan Parker and a 10-yarder to Justin Wyatt.

But that was the end of the scoring for the Eagles.

"It's a great feeling to know (we have the No. 3 seed)," Wilber said. "But we still have one regular-season game left and we want to win that one, too."