SNELLVILLE — Given the experience level and philosophies of both coaches involved, as well as the field and weather conditions, it was little surprise that Friday’s Region 7-AAAAAAA clash between Norcross and Brookwood turned into an old-school grind-it-out affair.
In the end, the visiting Blue Devils took advantage of an early lead and made just enough plays to grind out a hard-fought 27-22 win on a chilly night at Brookwood Community Stadium.
Norcross (4-5, 4-1) was actually outgained by Brookwood (4-5, 3-2) in total offense 351-270 on a soft, muddy field still feeling the effects of rain earlier this week.
However, the Blue Devils were more balanced, including a combined 159 yards through the air from Mason Kaplan and Trey Goodman, and forced two turnovers — one at the very beginning of the game and one at the end — to overcome a huge night by Eli Kohl (16-175) and the Broncos running game to lock down the No. 2 playoff seed from the region, and a first-round home game.
“(Brookwood) came after our tails,” Norcross coach Keith Maloof said. “But we did what we needed to do to win the game. … (The players) stepped up. When we had to have it, they stepped up and we got it done. I’m proud of them. Now we’ve got a home-field (playoff) game. We’ve got to step it up (next) week against Meadowcreek and be clean and go into the playoffs with momentum.”
That bottom line came in handy at the end, but not before the Blue Devils gave themselves an early lead that set the tone for the evening.
Norcross took advantage of the first big break of the game when Josh Graham pounced on a Brookwood fumble at the Broncos’ 44-yard line on the first snap of the game, and Kaplan hit Jaylen Green down the right sideline for a 31-yard completion that set Norcross up in the red zone.
The Blue Devils then slowly slogged their way the remaining 13 yards, needing five more snaps before Kaplan finally hit Green on a 6-yard scoring strike to give Norcross a 7-0 lead with 7:53 left in the first quarter.
Brookwood answered with an eight-play drive that moved the ball down as deep as the Norcross 14.
The drive stalled with a third down sack of Lonergan, but Jake Cartmill salvaged it with a 39-yard field goal that pulled the Broncos to within 7-3 with 4:26 left in the opening frame.
Norcross went back to the ground on its next drive, grinding 75 yards in 11 plays, aided by a third-down personal foul penalty that kept the drive alive.
Then after 10 straight runs, Kaplan went back to the air on second and goal and hit Goodman on a 5-yard slant pass for a score that pushed the Blue Devils’ lead to 14-3 with 9:38 left in the first half.
After sitting out the entire first quarter, Kohl finally entered the game on Brookwood’s next possession and made an immediate impact, running for 27 yards on his first carry and chewing up 71 yards on six carries during the ensuing 80-yard drive.
And on the eighth play, Lonergan faked a handoff to Tyler Knight and waltzed into the end zone for a TD that pulled Brookwood to within 14-9 after a low snap caused the ensuing PAT to be blocked.
It took Norcross just one play to respond, thanks to a little trickery after taking possession at its own 24 following the ensuing kickoff.
Kaplan threw a backwards pass to Goodman in the right flat, and the junior, who moved to receiver from quarterback only a few games ago, lofted a diagonal pass across the field to Michael Porter, who snagged the ball and broke a tackle before sprinting the rest of the way down the left sideline for a 76-yard touchdown, extending the Blue Devils’ lead to 20-0 following a missed extra point with 4:58 left in the half.
Once again, Brookwood responded with the run game, with the Broncos once again marching 80 yards in eight plays, capped by Trent Knight’s 8-yard TD with 52.1 seconds left than sent the teams into halftime with Norcross’ lead at just 20-16.
The Blue Devils kept that momentum coming out of the locker room by capitalizing on another break on the opening drive of the second half.
It looked like they would have to punt after their drive stalled at their own 40, but a running into the punter penalty set up and fourth-and-1 situation at the 45, and Maloof elected to roll the dice and go for it.
Porter appeared to be stopped in the backfield, but broke a tackle and pulled away for a 9-yard gain and a first down that kept the drive alive.
Five plays later, Kaplan lofted a pass down the left sideline, and Goodman went up and out-jumped a Brookwood defender to haul in the 26-yard TD pass that appeared to put Norcross in command with a 27-16 lead with 7:04 left in the third quarter.
But Brookwood’s defense stiffened, allowing the Blue Devils just 12 yards the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, the Broncos owned time of possession, but could not break through, including turning the ball over on downs on the first series of the fourth quarter.
However, the Broncos finally broke through late in the fourth quarter when they were forced to take to the air.
Lonergan hit Kohl on a 15-yard swing pass, with the senior running back adding a 25-yard run before the freshman quarterback found T.J. Burdian in the middle of the field for a 32-yard TD pass to pull Brookwood to within 27-22 with 3:34 left following an unsuccessful two-point conversion.
The Broncos then got one more shot after an ineligible man downfield penalty negated what would’ve been a key third-down conversion and forced a Norcross punt with 1:40 left.
Brookwood picked up one first down on an 11-yard pass from Lonergan to Kaleb Commings on a fourth-down conversion, and got another first down on a defensive holding penalty.
But on first and 10 from the Brookwood 43, Lonergan overthrew his intended receiver, and Tyreke Slaton made a diving catch for an interception with 47.5 seconds left to give the Blue Devils the ball back, and allow them to run out the clock.
“I’m real proud of our guys for the way they played (Friday) night,” Brookwood coach Philip Jones said. “Tip your had to Norcross. They played turnover-free and made the plays they had to make at critical times. I’m really proud of our guys for fighting 48 minutes. When we went down by 11 in the second half, they could’ve folded, but they continued to fight back. So I’m proud of them for that.”
NORCROSS 27, BROOKWOOD 22
Norcross 7 13 7 0 ― 27
Brookwood 3 13 0 6 ― 22
Norcross: Jaylen Green 6 pass from Mason Kaplan (Kellen Grave de Peralta kick), 7:53
Brookwood: Jake Cartmill 39 FG, 4:26
Norcross: Trey Goodman 5 pass from Kaplan (Grave de Peralta kick), 9:38
Brookwood: Dylan Lonergan 3 run (kick blocked), 5:25
Norcross: Michael Porter 76 pass from Goodman (kick failed), 4:58
Brookwood: Tyler Knight 8 run (Cartmill kick), 0:52.1
Norcross: Goodman 26 pass from Kaplan (Grave de Peralta kick), 7:04
Brookwood: T.J. Burdian 32 pass from Lonergan (pass failed), 3:34
First downs 13 18
Rushes-yards 37-111 35-255
Passing yards 159 96
Att.-Comp.-INT 7-11-0 7-17-1
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 6-43 7-92
Rushing — Norcross: Kaplan 8-57, Jahni Clarke 8-19, Porter 11-19, Zion Alexander 4-12, Kaleb Jackson 5-11, TEAM 1-(1-7). Brookwood Kohl 16-175, Knight 8-47, Lonergan 4-10, Alex Diggs 3-9, Burdian 1-6, Jack Spyke 2-6, Manny Fernandez 1-2.
Passing — Norcross: Kaplan 6-10-0, 83; Goodman 1-1-0, 76. Brookwood Lonergan 5-13-1, 72; Spyke 2-4-0, 24.
Receiving — Norcross: Green 3-42, Goodman 2-31, Porter 1-76. Brookwood: Kohl 3-39, Burdian 2-36, Kaleb Commings 2-21.