Norcross’ Josh Boyd (9) puts a stiff arm on Lowndes’ Carlos Lee (28) during Friday’s game at Norcross. (Photo: Craig Cappy)
NORCROSS — Norcross’ defense has developed a knack for creating turnovers to start the second half in this year’s playoff games.
The Blue Devils might have outdone themselves in Friday’s Class AAAAAA quarterfinal game.
Norcross recovered three fumbles in the third quarter to set up its 28-7 win over Lowndes to advance to the state semifinals.
“During the playoffs we crank it up,” Norcross linebacker Kevin Mouhon said. “Defense is how you win championships.”
Norcross (11-2), the defending state champion, will host Colquitt County (11-2) in the semifinals next Friday. It will be a rematch of last year’s semis that Norcross won 41-27. The Packers beat Dacula 42-17 on Friday.
“We’ve been here before, so it’s nothing new to us,” Mouhon said. “We’re trying to win another state championship.”
Norcross’ defense continued to put on a dominating performance in the playoffs.
The Blue Devils forced five turnovers and scored 21 points off the miscues in Friday’s win. Norcross held Lowndes’ offense to just 167 yards and seven first downs. The Vikings’ (9-4) biggest play was a 62-yard touchdown pass. It was one of the few scores allowed by the Norcross defense, which has allowed just 16 points in three playoff games.
“The defense has played great all year since the third game in the second half. They’ve created opportunities,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said.
Jordan Noil and Jaquan Frazier had interceptions, while Frazier, Lorenzo Carter and Mouhon had fumble recoveries. Brandon Garner had a sack and Darian Kithcart had a sack and a forced fumble.
“Our coach set the goal to get five turnovers,” Mouhon said. “We met the challenge head on.”
On Lowndes’ first play of the second half, the Vikings fumbled and Frazier recovered.
Quarterback A.J. Bush had a 17-yard touchdown run, diving to hit the pylon and give the Blue Devils a 21-0 lead to start the third quarter.
Noah Bradsher had a big hit on the kickoff, jarring the ball loose and Mouhon recovered. The Blue Devils had to punt, but got the ball back again thanks to another fumble.
Kithcart stripped the ball and Carter recovered at the 27. That set up Messiah Francis’ 31-yard touchdown pass from Bush to put Norcross ahead 28-0 with 5:37 left in the third quarter. Bush was 11 of 26 for 140 yards passing with two touchdown passes. The senior also had 43 yards rushing and a TD.
“It was big,” Maloof said of the lead. “A.J. has thrown that ball well all week long. I think he came into his own a little.”
Lowndes answered with its biggest play of the game, a 62-yard touchdown catch by Malik Roberts from Austin Dixon.
Lowndes’ wing-T offense came into the game averaging 238.5 yards rushing. The Vikings were held to 96 yards by Norcross. Alex Brown was the team’s leading rusher with 37 yards, while Jerome Daniels had 32 yards.
“The way they run the ball, we knew what type of team they are,” Mouhon said. “We had to get them into a situation where they had to throw the ball.”
Lowndes threatened to move the ball on its next possession, but was intercepted by Frazier with 9:40 left in the game. The Vikings didn’t get another first down the rest of the game.
“We have playmakers — linebackers, secondary, D-line,” Mouhon said. “Our defense, we all know how to make plays.”
Norcross’ offense got rolling late in the first quarter. Bush threw a 37-yard pass to Clinton Lynch on third-and-12 and raced to the five. After a holding penalty, Bush threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Marques Solomon on third down for a 7-0 lead. Lynch caught four passes for 76 yards.
Norcross’ Kithcart had a sack on third down to force the Vikings to punt. The Blue Devils fumbled the return and gave Lowndes the ball at the 16.
Jordan Noil intercepted Dixon at the five and returned it 56 yards. It was Noil’s second interception in the playoffs.
“That was a huge turnaround,” Maloof said. “Jordan getting that turnover was a big play.”
Bush had another fourth down completion to Lynch for 17 yards to keep the Blue Devils’ drive alive. That set up Josh Boyd’s 10-yard run up the middle for a 14-0 lead with 6:14 left in the half. Boyd rushed for 65 yards on 20 carries.
NORCROSS 28, LOWNDES 7
Lowndes 0 0 7 0 — 7
Norcross 7 7 14 0 — 28
Norcross: Marques Solomon 11 pass from A.J. Bush (Blake Bingham kick) :52
Norcross: Josh Boyd 10 run (Bingham kick) 6:14
Norcross: A.J. Bush 17 run (Bingham kick) 9:33
Norcross: Messiah Francis 31 pass from Bush (Bingham kick) 5:37
Lowndes: Malik Roberts 62 pass from Austin Dixon (Nick Hart kick) 4:27
Lowndes ---- Norcross
First downs 7 ---- 12
Rushes-yards 30-96 ---- 36-120
Comp-Att-Int 6-9-2 ---- 11-26-0
Passing yards 71 ---- 140
Penalties-yards 4-20 ---- 7-55
Fumbles-lost 4-3 ---- 1-1
RUSHING — Lowndes: Brandon Roberts 4-19; Eric Hart 3-4; Alex Brown 7-37; Jerome Daniels 5-32; Arvin Berry 5-18; Nathan Brantley 1-4; Austin Dixon 5-(-18). Norcross: Josh Boyd 20-65; A.J. Bush 11-43; Myles Autry 2-18; James Keeling 1-3; KaDarius Garrett 1-0; Griffin Barker 1-(-6).
PASSING — Lowndes: Austin Dixon 6-9-2, 71. Norcross: A.J. Bush 11-26-0, 140.
RECEIVING — Lowndes: Demarcus Jackson 1-2; Alex Brown 2-(-5); Malik Roberts 1-62; Arvin Berry 2-72. Norcross: Chris Herndon 1-20; Clinton Lynch 4-76; Jared Pinkney 1-14; Myles Autry 3-11; Mqrques Solomon 1-11; Josh Boyd 1-8.