Norcross' Alvin Kamara (6) runs the ball as Duluth's Joshua Johnson (34) attempts to trip him up during the first half of Friday's game.
Norcross' Jason Croom (18) and J.T. Tolbert (10) celebrate Croom's touchdown against Duluth on Friday night.
Norcross' Damir Shipman (39) puts a hit on Duluth quarterback Anfornee Stewart (4), forcing a fumble, during the second half of Friday's game. Also on the play for Norcross is Isaiah Hinsley (50).
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NORCROSS — Two of the county's top scoring offenses couldn't stop fumbling Friday night, combining for eight turnovers.
Afterward, those errors were only part of the worries for Norcross and Duluth.
Both teams lost key players to injuries that could be long-term - Duluth quarterback Anfornee Stewart and Norcross linebacker/fullback Tanner Maloof - in Norcross' ugly 35-14 win in the rivals' Region 7-AAAAA opener.
"We were sloppy, not as polished as we've been the past three games," said Norcross head coach Keith Maloof, whose team improved to 4-0. "But we did what we needed to do to win and our kids played hard. I'm proud of them."
Maloof's post-game concerns also were with his own son Tanner, the county's third-leading tackler entering the game and also the Blue Devils' starting fullback. The younger Maloof injured his right knee, believed to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament, on the opening play of the second quarter, a 5-yard reception.
Duluth (2-2) had its own injury to worry about when Anfornee Stewart, the county's leading passer, suffered leg injury early in the fourth quarter. The senior, who topped the 1,000-yard passing mark on the season in the loss, was picked up and carted off the field after a tackle near the Norcross sideline.
"They think it's a high ankle sprain," Duluth head coach Corey Jarvis said of Stewart, who completed 17 of 28 passes for 196 yards.
The two offenses didn't match their early-season success, mostly because of the turnover issues. They combined for eight fumbles (six of them lost) and Duluth also threw two interceptions.
The last pick, by Norcross' JaQuan Simpkins, sealed the win. The sophomore returned his interception to the Duluth 3 early in the fourth quarter, setting up Alvin Kamara's third touchdown of the game for the 35-14 edge.
The Wildcats had closed to within 21-14 in the third quarter on Matthew Randle's 1-yard TD run, but Norcross regained the lead on Kamara's 7-yard scoring run, which was set up by Myles Autry's long kickoff return.
Kamara had 17 carries for 85 yards, while Norcross' Joseph Wilber was 15-for-21 passing for 265 yards. Jason Croom caught three passes for 83 yards and two TDs, and Anthony Autry had five catches for 82 yards.
"It was a tough ball game," Jarvis said. "I told our kids it was basically like a heavyweight fight. They were going to make some plays. We didn't play well enough on defense to get off the field and the offense just turned the ball over too many times."
Poor field position and three costly fumbles sunk Duluth into a deep hole in the first half. The first, on the Wildcats' opening drive, was on a fumbled handoff at the Norcross 3-yard line Tommy Tate fell on at the 7 to stop the threat.
Wilber then led a nine-play, 93-yard scoring drive that was capped by his 41-yard scoring strike to Croom.
The hosts needed only six plays to score again, getting a 6-yard TD run from Kamara on the second play of the second quarter. Shon Akins recovered a Duluth fumble to stop a seven-play drive and set up another TD pass from Wilber to Croom, this one an 18-yard screen play.
Duluth tried to answer but a fumble on a long pass play was recovered by Isaiah Hinsley with 20 seconds left in the half. Norcross took a shot at extending the halftime lead but it turned disastrous when Wilber spun to avoid a defender and lost the ball, which Duluth's Michael Long scooped up for a 40-yard TD with just four seconds left before halftime.
That energy carried into the second half for an early TD, but the Wildcats had trouble finishing off drives otherwise.