Defensive revival turns around Norcross season

NORCROSS — Fifty five.

That’s the number of points Norcross allowed in its opening game of the season. Two weeks later, the Blue Devils surrendered 36 more as the defending Class AAAAAA state champs opened the year with a 1-2 start.

Those numbers are far from where a championship caliber team needs to be, casting a huge shadow of doubt on the Blue Devils’ chances of repeating as champs.

Oh, how times have changed.

Since those first three games, the Norcross defense has come together, giving up 59 points in its final seven regular season games and just 16 more in its first three playoff games.

On Friday night, Norcross faced its biggest test against Colquitt County in the Class AAAAAA state semifinals and rode its defensive play to a 14-9 win over the Packers, earning a showdown next Saturday against region foe North Gwinnett for the championship.

“We just all believe in each other and have gotten a lot tighter,” Norcross linebacker Warren McWilliams said. “That’s really all it has taken. We fell down early but we knew that we were going to be able to come back and win.”

McWilliams was one of six Blue Devils to record five or more tackles as he finished the night with eight, including two for a loss.

That defense was put to the test throughout most of the first half as Colquitt’s average starting field position was near midfield at the Packer 48.

Four of Colquitt’s six possessions in the first two quarters started in Norcross territory, but Norcross was able to hold the Packers to field goals on three of those.

The other drive that started in Norcross territory resulted in a turnover on downs after Brandon Garner (six stops on the night) stuffed Colquitt running back Sihiem King on fourth-and-one.

“Our defense has done that all year long in holding teams to field goals instead of touchdowns,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. “Holding (Colquitt) to those was huge because it kept them at nine points instead of 21 and that was the difference in the game.”

The second half was even more dominating for Norcross as it held the Packers to just two first downs in the final two quarters, with one of those coming on a pass interference penalty.

Of its last five possessions in the second half, Colquitt had three three-and-outs, one punt after six plays and the final one ending with 17 seconds left in the game when Jordan Noil, a Maryland commit, picked off a Daniel Mobley pass to snuff Colquitt’s last chance.

“We knew if our defense kept holding them the offense would get our back,” defensive back Ridwan Issahaku said, who recorded five tackles with one for loss. “We were stuck in the red zone a lot but we”ve always said that we’re a brotherhood thant can’t be broken.”

On the night, the Packers were held to 181 total yards, 101 through the air and 87 rushing on 38 attempts. But the big number of the night was three, the number of field goals Norcross allowed after playing most of the first two quarters deep on its half of the field.

Quite an improvement from 55.