VALDOSTA – A 23-yard touchdown pass from Jacurri Brown to Khris Thomas with 1:17 left proved to be the difference as the Lowndes Vikings escaped with a 35-34 win over the Norcross Blue Devils in the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state football playoffs Friday night.
With a chance to march down the field for a potential go-ahead score, Blue Devils quarterback A.J. Watkins fired downfield looking to move the chains.
In for the final play on defense for the Vikings, Brown went up and intercepted Watkins with 48 seconds left, allowing the Vikings to kneel on the clock to secure the victory.
“They played their hearts out,” Blue Devils head coach Keith Maloof said. “You can’t ask for anything better. We just didn’t make the plays at the end that we needed to. Fourth down, if we make one play. … The quarterback’s good. Even when he’s hurt, he’s good. He put the ball on the money and made some great plays in the second half and kept them in the game. When we got on a roll and did some really good things, give them credit. He came out and that’s why he’s a big-time player.”
The Blue Devils took a 34-28 lead with 6:22 left on a 27-yard field goal by junior Drew Duva.
Facing fourth-and-11 with 3:39 left, the Vikings opted to roll the dice and go for it. Brown dropped back and lofted a jump ball to Justin Barron in the end zone. The pass appeared to be caught momentarily, but as Barron and corner back Jasiah Beacham came crashing to the turf, the ball popped loose, giving the Blue Devils the ball on downs with 3:29 left.
The Blue Devils were unable to get a first down as Watkins fired a pass incomplete intended for Nakai Poole on third-and-8 from the 46, setting up a Norcross punt.
As the Vikings took over on first-and-10 from their own 10-yard line, Brown hit running back Jacarre Fleming for 23 yards to move the chains. Then, the Miami commit went deep downfield for Thomas, who was able to haul in a catch while drawing a pass interference call on the Blue Devils to set up first-and-10 at the Norcross 20.
The drive nearly stalled as Brown came up empty twice and only completed one pass to Fleming for 2 yards inside the red zone prior to the go-ahead touchdown.
Brown’s heroics for the Vikings seemed improbable much of the night as he left the game with an apparent ankle injury with 6:57 left in the first quarter.
As the Vikings' quarterback limped gingerly on the sidelines, it looked likely his night would be over. That is, until the start of the second half.
Down 24-21 coming out of the halftime break, Brown led the Vikings on a scoring drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown by Fleming that gave Lowndes a 28-24 lead with 4:20 left in the third quarter.
The Blue Devils promptly responded as Watkins scampered for a 23-yard touchdown run to put the Blue Devils back in front 31-28 with 46 seconds left in the third.
The Blue Devils seized momentum in the second quarter, rallying from a 14-0 deficit to tie the game at 21 by halftime.
A 5-yard touchdown pass from Watkins to Poole knotted the game at 21 with 4:14 to go in the second quarter.
After stifling a Lowndes drive midway through the second quarter, the Blue Devils took advantage of a missed 45-yard field goal by Franklin Aguilar.
On the ensuing possession, on second-and-3, Watkins hooked up with Poole on a 73-yard touchdown pass to pull the Blue Devils within a score, 21-14 with 5 minutes to go in the second quarter.
The Blue Devils got on the board early in the second quarter as they blocked a punt by the Vikings’ Carson Page and returned it for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-7 with 9:21 remaining in the second quarter.
Lowndes pushed their lead to three touchdowns on the ensuing kickoff as Jarren Shaw’s kick was fielded by the Vikings’ Kevis Thomas at the 2-yard line and taken all the way back 98 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-7 with 9:05 to go before halftime.
The Blue Devils finished with 305 yards total offense with 16 first downs while the Vikings went for 429 yards on offense and 25 first downs. Norcross was flagged for eight penalties for 50 yards while Lowndes had five penalties for 40 yards. Norcross went 7 of 16 on third down while the Vikings went 7 of 14.
Watkins completed 11 of 26 passes for 168 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Watkins also had 15 carries for 39 yards with one rushing touchdown.
Poole led the charge for the Blue Devils with six catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Tyson Jarrell added five catches for 34 yards.
For the Vikings, Brown completed 9 of 15 passes for 196 yards with the game-winning touchdown, while also carrying the ball seven times for 80 yards and the game’s opening touchdown.
Fleming, a sophomore, had 17 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Jonathon Mathis led the Blue Devils defense with eight tackles, while Antonio Molder added seven stops. As a team, the Blue Devils finished with seven tackles for loss.
Norcross finishes the season with an 8-4 record. With the win, Lowndes pushed its winning streak to eight games and set up third-round home matchup with Collins Hill in a rematch of last year’s Class AAAAAAA semifinals.