Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Parkview Keanu Mole (1) delivers a stiff arm to Colquitt County O'Shay Williams (7) during quarterfinals of Class AAAAAA state high school football playoffs in Lilburn Friday. Colquitt County defeated Parkview 31-15.
The drive home that began Friday night and pushed into Saturday morning was a long one, but a happy one, for the Norcross football players and coaches.
They had hours to relish a historic 34-20 win over host Camden County, a state title favorite by many, that sent them into the first state semifinal appearance in school history. They also know the long road trip possibilities are over for this season.
Norcross will host Colquitt County, a winner at Parkview on Friday night, and a victory in that one will mean a trip to the state finals in the Georgia Dome. But beating Colquitt, a perennial power, will be no easy feat.
But at least the Blue Devils have the luxury of their home field next week.
"It's big to bring a state semifinal game home," Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. "Colquitt's going to bring a great crowd. They travel well. Our home crowd will be big and fired up. It's going to be a great high school football atmosphere. It should be rocking."
Norcross pulled off its latest victory with a ball-control offense that dominated possession behind a stout offensive line. Alvin Kamara ran the ball well, Joseph Wilber was solid and Trey Smith caught two touchdown passes against a Camden defense that came into the game allowing 7.9 points.
The Camden offense also had bloated numbers, taking a 41-point scoring average into the quarterfinals. But Norcross did well against that unit, too.
"Overall our defense played great, we did some things I know we can do," Maloof said. "It looks bad giving up 20 points, but they returned an interception down to our 5 and returned a kickoff to our side of the field. That team was averaging 40 something points. The defense played well."
Buford throws rare INT
Buford went into Friday's quarterfinal game against Carver-Columbus with 145 pass attempts without an interception. That streak ended on Friday against Carver.
Taylor Mitchell was intercepted by Kiante Walton in the second quarter. To make the pick worse, Walton returned it 66 yards for a touchdown to give Carver a 7-0 lead.
"It was a big one," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said of the play. "That's part of football. Stuff is going to happen and it's going to go against you and you have to be able to respond."
The play ended up having little impact on the game as Buford scored the game's next 31 points for the win.
The score did deny Buford of its sixth shutout of the season, but offensive/defensive lineman Josh Cardiello wasn't too worried about it.
"We got the W that's all that matters," Cardiello said. "We get to play next week. There's only four teams."
Wilson returns with a vengeance
Buford running back Dontravious Wilson went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season on Friday. The senior would have reached the milestone sooner had he not been hampered by a knee injury this fall.
Wilson missed three games before coming back last week. He ran the ball about 10 times in last week's game, but wasn't his normal self. He looked truer to form in Friday's 31-7 win over Carver-Columbus. Wilson rushed for 134 yards on 27 carries with one touchdown.
"It's great to have him back," Buford offensive lineman Josh Cardiello said. "To have a back as good as him, it's fun to block for these backs because they are so good."
Despite the strong performance, head coach Jess Simpson still thinks Wilson is not at his best.
"He's still not 100 percent," Simpson said. "He's a little faster and a little quicker even than what he showed tonight. He'll be better next week if he's not too banged up."
Spartans cash in on late break
In a game that featured five lead changes and one tie, Greater Atlanta Christian had the ball last and cashed in on Brandon Holzgrefe's game-winning 19-yard field goal.
But it was another kick that proved to be criticalin setting up GAC's eight-play, 51-yard drive. After Early County had tied the game at 24-24 on Ladonis Bryant's 53-yard run with 59 seconds remaining, the Bobcats tried to squib the kickoff to keep the ball away from the Spartans' kickoff returners. But the ball went out of bounds at the GAC 47 and the Spartans took the ball there insteadof making Early County re-kick. Rafe Chapple went to work and completed five straight passes-- three to Peter Whiteneck and twoto Kyle Scales -- to move the Spartans down to the Bobcats' 9. An Early County penalty, an incompletion and two running plays set GAC upat the 2-yard line with 2.4 remaining and Holzgrefe converted.
Running the numbers
GAC found a tough Early County defense Friday night, but the Spartans were able to put together drivesto reach thestate semifinals forthe first time since 2002. Chapple finished the game 15 of 26 for 133 yards and two interceptions, but the junior signal-caller made the plays whenit counted onthe final drive.
GAC also got a productive night from Chris Williams, who caught five passes for 47 yards and a TD. Darius Slayton also had three catches for 49 yards with a TD while Whiteneck had three grabs for 42 yards. Meanwhile, Scales finished with 116 yards on 19 carries and only had two runs over 10 yards. But none were bigger than his 58-yard scamper late in the third quarter as GAC regained the lead 24-17 after Early County took the lead 17-16 just 17 seconds earlier.
Record-breaking season ends for Lewis
With Mill Creek's season coming to an end with Friday night's 42-35 shootout loss to North Cobb, it also ended the record-breaking season for Hawks running back Jacorey Lewis.
With 154 yards (unofficially) and a touchdown on 26 carries, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior closed out the 2012 campaign by adding to his single-season and career records in rushing yards (2,32 ,433), attempts (278/406) and touchdowns (3 7).
"He had a great season," Hawks coach Shannon Jarvis said of Lewis. "We knew he was capable of it. For a young man to come out and do it, we're extremely proud of him. It was really the whole offense I'm proud of. ... They all take part in that."
Finally on the right end
Friday night's wild shootout wasn't the first one during the postseason that a team coached North Cobb's Shane Queen has engaged in with a Gwinnett opponent, but it was the first one his team was able to come out on top in.
That accomplishment was not lost on Queen after the game as he remembered and epic 70-68 loss to Colliins Hill in seven overtimes by his South Cobb team in 2004, as well as a 35-28 loss to Peachtree Ridge during his second season at North Cobb in 2007, a game his Warriors came into at 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state.
"Man, that was a fight," Queen said of Friday night's win over Mill Creek. "We've come on the other end against Collins Hill 70-68 years ago and Peachtree Ridge 35-28. But to come out on this end after being down 21-7, these kids keep on fighting, and I just can't say enough about their resolve."
In loss, Panthers show how they won
Parkview lost its quarterback, Rob Youngblood, for most of the regular season, yet kept winning.
Then the Panthers lost standout running back Chris Carson for the year late in the season, yet they reached the state quarterfinals.
They won by the definition of team and even in their loss Friday to Colquitt County, Parkview showed how that works. Six different players carried the ball in the Panther's ball-control defense, totaling 140 yards on 39 carries as a team.
"You just plug and play and the kids rallied around that kind of stuff," Flowe said. "They kept finding ways to win.
"We met our match on this night and I've got no complaints."
-- Sports Editor Will Hammock, staff writers Brandon Brigman, Ben Beitzel and David Friedlander and staff correspondent Steve Argo contributed to this report