Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross running back Alvin Kamara (6) is welcomed to the field by Blue Devil's fans prior to the semifinal Class AAAAAA state playoff game against Colquitt County in Norcross on Friday.
NORCROSS --The tone was set pretty early Friday night.
Norcross was in the football program's first-ever state semifinal game, but its players and coaches hardly looked like the less playoff-seasoned team against Colquitt County, which was in its fourth straight season of the Final Four or better.
Despite that disadvantage in postseason experience, Norcross came in as the favorite, ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAAA with an undefeated record. If the Blue Devils had any jitters, they were quickly erased with a confidence-boosting first-quarter call.
Facing a fourth down with a yard to go, at his own 33-yard line, head coach Keith Maloof chose to go for it. Quarterback Joseph Wilber followed his offensive line for a first-down sneak, a gamble that paid off big in a scoreless tie.
On the next play, Wilber hit Trey Smith for a 64-yard touchdown pass and Norcross led the rest of the way in a 41-27 victory to reach its first state final.
"I do feel like that (fourth-down play) set the tone early," Wilber said. "They knew what we were doing and they couldn't stop it."
Maloof's gamble showed his confidence in his players, especially his offensive line. He hasn't been hesitant in short-yardage situations all season, so he took a shot with his riskiest decision to date.
"I just felt like our offensive line was big enough and that we should be able to get (the yard)," Maloof said. "It was just gut instinct on my part. It could have backfired. But I've got enough confidence in our defense to take a chance like that."
That kind of confidence is built with a season of experiences.
Norcross' school-record 14 wins include wins over two quarterfinal teams, North Gwinnett and Mill Creek, from its own region. The Blue Devils beat a pair of Region 8-AAAAAA playoff teams, Parkview and South Gwinnett (twice), then notched their most impressive win last week at Camden County.
Camden was the state title favorite of many, but Norcross came back with a win and loads of self-assurance. A confident bunch showed up Friday against Colquitt, and the visiting Packers couldn't match it.
Not that everything went smoothly.
Playmaker Myles Autry was hurt early and didn't play. The Blue Devils lost two fumbles, one at the goal line that cost them seven points. A personal foul penalty when they had the ball on the Colquitt 1-yard line turned a likely TD into a Joseph Mahfood field goal.
But players and coaches who believe they are going to win don't get rattled by those things. Good or bad, they expect to win. That's where Norcross is right now.
"Right now our confidence is sky high," Maloof said. "We're playing great. We're 14-0. We feel great right now."
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His regular column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.