Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Norcross' Clinton Lynch (2) celebrates after winning the Class AAAAAA state championship on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Winning a state championship is a momentous occasion in and of itself.
But the the implications of Norcross' 21-14 win over Lovejoy in Saturday's Class AAAAAA state championship game at the Georgia Dome, and the manner in which it was won, is the extra cherry on top.
"It's just starting to sink in," said senior quarterback Joseph Wilber, who threw for two touchdowns Saturday, including a 61-yard strike to Alvin Kamara that gave the Blue Devils the lead for good at 15-14 with 4:26 remaining. "At school (Monday), there were a bunch of posters saying 'State Champs' all over the cafeteria. It's surreal. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. And the way it happened makes it that much more special."
The win provided the Blue Devils (15-0) with their first undefeated season and first title in the more than 55-year history of varsity football at the school.
And it came thanks to a furious fourth-quarter comeback that saw Norcross score 18 unanswered points after trailing 14-3 and being held to just 104 yards and eight first downs through the first three quarters.
It was a position the Blue Devils weren't used to being in that often this season.
"Other than the season opener against South Gwinnett (in which the Blue Devils trailed 7-6), this was the first time this year we'd been down at halftime," Norcross coach Keith Maloof said. "But we knew the kids would respond. They've responded (to any adversity) all year."
Indeed, as much as the offense was struggling, the defense, led by a big night from the likes of linebacker Tommy Tate (seven tackles), defensive end Lorenzo Carter (six tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack) and defensive back Jaquan Frazier (nine tackles and an interception) managed to keep the Blue Devils close.
That unit managed to keep a Lovejoy (13-2) offense that featured Georgia Tech commits Travis Custis (20 carries, 59 yards) and JuMichael Ramos (four receptions, 89 yards, TD) relatively in check and bought the offense time to find whatever openings it could.
"It was just one crazy night when everyone was battling," Tate said. "Our offense can be explosive. We just had to keep stopping (Lovejoy) and give the offense a chance."
And the offense took advantage with two big touchdown passes from Wilber -- two of just six completions he had on the night -- in the fourth quarter.
The first was an 11-yard hook-up with Myles Autry, who gutted out playing on a torn-up knee, with 7:17 left to play that brought Norcross to within 14-9.
But it was the second one that everyone around the Blue Devils' program will be talking about for years to come, after a sack by Lovejoy's Eugene Fuller and a false start penalty put Norcross with a precarious third-and-19 situation.
Wilber dropped back and not only saw Alvin Kamara, who led Norcross with 181 total yards and two total TDs, get a step on Lovejoy linebacker Veion Robinson down the left sideline, but also spied safety Cinwon Whitehead coming over to help.
The 6-foot, 175-pound senior let fly with a pinpoint pass that sailed just over the outstretched arm of a leaping Whitehead and into the arms of Kamara, who dashed the remaining yards for a 61-yard score that put Norcross in front for good.
"I knew (Kamara) could beat the linebacker," Wilber said. "All I had to do was time (Whitehead) coming over. It was definitely, by far, the best pass I've ever thrown. It was the best play I've ever been a part of."
It took three more big plays -- Cole Kisner, Jamarcus Connally and Carter's fourth-down gang-tackle of Custis, Kamara's 10-yard TD run and Frazier's interception -- in the final 3:16 for Norcross to secure the title and let loose a flood of emotion.
For Maloof, it was adding to the coaching legacy of his family that included his father George, who was inducted into the GACA Hall of Fame after leading St. Pius X to 162 wins and the 1968 Class AA title in 26 seasons, and brother Kevin, who retired two years ago after winning 175 games in 26 seasons at Loganville, Meadowcreek and Dacula.
"Dad's looking over us," Maloof said with tears welling up shortly after Saturday's game. "I can't tell you how much this means to my family."
If that thought wasn't emotional enough, the scene that greeted the Blue Devils when they returned to the school in the wee hours of Sunday morning following Saturday's late finish was.
Thousands of students, parents and fans greeted the team bus as it pulled outside the school on Spalding Drive and formed a chain for the players to walk through as they walked down to the field house.
"That's when it hit me," Tate said. "Sometimes, the journey is greater than the destination. ... Now, the whole (Norcross) community was on the journey with us and behind us all the way. There were so many parents and students behind us and cheering us on. It wasn't how many years it was (before finally getting a title), it was how much the community wanted it for us."