Norcross’ Christopher Herndon (23) finds running room before being taken down by the Brookwood defense during last week’s game. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
Norcross’ defense has faced some of Gwinnett County’s top running back this season and has had success against all of them.
Peachtree Ridge’s Jordan Ellis was held to 61 yards, North Gwinnett’s C.J. Leggett 28 yards, Collins Hill’s Tyler Henderson 87 yards. Even last week, the Blue Devils’ defense held Brookwood’s Jesse Brown to just 83 yards.
Norcross’ run defense will face its biggest test tonight in the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs. The defending state champions have the daunting task of trying to slow down Lowndes’ dangerous wing-T offense.
“We don’t see that kind of offense all the time, but we see a lot of physical teams in our league,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. “Our kids should be okay. Against the wing-T you think the ball is here, but it’s really there.”
The winner of tonight’s game will advance to the state quarterfinals against the Dacula-Colquitt County winner.
This is Lowndes’ fourth-straight game on the road. The Vikings (9-3) finished the regular season with a loss at region champion Camden County. They went to East Coweta in the first round of the playoffs and won 38-10 and then went to last year’s state runner-up Lovejoy and won 23-18.
Norcross (10-2) has played all of its playoff games at home, beating Etowah 28-0 and Brookwood 32-9.
“It’s more of a financial strain than it is on the kids,” Maloof said. “They are resilient, so I don’t think it will be an issue.”
Lowndes doesn’t have a big-name running back, but the unit has rolled up 2,862 yards rushing this season. Jerome Daniels leads the way with 509 yards and 10 touchdowns. Anthony Robinson (394 yards), Arvin Berry (329) and Ahman Brown (315) are among the team’s rushing leaders.
“They’ve got playmakers and we have to limit the big plays,” Maloof said.
Lowndes, which features Georgia commitment Dyshon Sims on the offensive line, rushed for 303 yards last week against Lovejoy.
“We’re playing really well on defense and against the run, but when you have three running backs back there you have to be disciplined,” Maloof said.
The group will be a major test for the Norcross defense. The unit is allowing 68 yards rushing in the game. In the playoffs, Norcross’ defense allowed 69 yards rushing last week and 83 yards in the first round.
Kevin Mouhon, a Tennessee commitment, and Warren McWilliams lead the team in tackles.
J.B. Kouassi leads the team in sacks (7.5) and Lorenzo Carter, the state’s No. 1 rated college recruit, leads the team in tackles for loss (35).
Three of the last five years, Lowndes has had its playoff run ended by a Gwinnett team. Grayson beat them in the second round in 2011 and in the quarterfinals in 2008. Collins Hill beat the Vikings in overtime in 2010.
Prior to that, Lowndes dominated Gwinnett in the playoffs. The Vikings used a 34-6 win over North Gwinnett in the 2007 state finals, beat Brookwood in the 2005 state championship 49-7 and defeated Parkview in the 2004 title game 17-14.
“I see them building the program back up,” Maloof said. “They are a very tough and physical team.”
Lowndes began the year with a shocking 15-14 loss to Newton, who finished the year 5-6.
“Anything can happen in high school football,” Maloof said. “I wasn’t surprised because anything can happen on a Friday night.”
Norcross knows about tough early-season losses. The Blue Devils started the year 1-2, but then won nine-straight games to finish as co-Region 7 champions and reach the quarterfinals.
The Blue Devils have outscored their opponents 60-9 in the postseason. They rushed for 301 yards last week against Brookwood. Josh Boyd led the charge with 183 yards and two touchdowns.
Lowndes’ defense allowed just 15 yards rushing last week against Lovejoy. The defense is allowing 84.5 yards rushing a game.
Linebacker Tre Jackson, a Georgia Tech commitment, leads the team with 58 tackles, seven for loss.
Cornerback Brandon Roberts (four interceptions) and defensive lineman Zack Copeland (54 tackles) are college prospects.
“They are very physical and quick,” Maloof said.
LOWNDES at NORCROSS
Lowndes Vikings (1-AAAAAA)
Coach: Randy McPherson
Last week: Beat Lovejoy 23-18
Norcross Blue Devils (7-AAAAAA)
Coach: Keith Maloof
Last week: Beat Brookwood 32-9
Last meeting: First meeting
Directions to Norcross High School: From I-85, go west on Beaver Ruin Road to Buford Highway and turn right. At the next light, turn left on Langford Drive. Cross Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and turn left on Spalding Drive.
School is on the left