The quarterfinals of the GHSA football playoffs included three Gwinnett County teams earning a trip to the Final Four in their class as a result of wins on Friday night. Buford (AAA), Norcross (AAAAAA) and North (AAAAAA) won and are now two wins away from a state championship. Dacula and Collins Hill, both Class-AAAAAA, lost and had their seasons come to an end.
The Norcross Blue Devils (11-2) overcame a slow start to defeat the Lowndes Vikings (9-4), 28-7, and the game wasn’t as close as the score would suggest.
The Devils were up 14-0 at the intermission and a pair of quick turnovers by the Vikings to open the second half resulted in Norcross doubling their lead to 28-0. Lowndes runs a Wing-T offense that is more of a ball-control, run centered style that is not effective when coming from behind. Once the Vikings were down four touchdowns there was little they could do against a Norcross defense that continued to shut down the opposition.
The Devil D has allowed just 16 points in the three playoff victories, while the AJ Bush led offense has put up 88. Coach Maloof said after the game that the offense “hasn’t been great, but has done just enough to win,” and that their defense “continues to play well and will keep us in games.”
The Norcross defense had two interceptions and forced four fumbles, recovering three of them, and won the turnover battle with a +4.
For Norcross, Bush was 11-of-26 for 140 yards and two touchdowns passing, and added another 43 yards on 11 carries and a TD rushing. Josh Boyd led all runners with 65 yards (20 carries), while Clinton Lynch led all receivers in both receptions (4) and yards (76).
The old adage says defenses win championships, and the Norcross faithful believe the Devils have the best D still playing- and it is hard to argue with them.
The North Gwinnett Bulldogs (12-1) had to come from behind to down the Hillgrove Hawks (11-2), and did just that when QB Hayden Sphire connected with Daniel Imatorbhebhe for a 10-yard TD that gave the Bulldogs a 35-31 lead with 1:13 remaining in the game. The Hawks uncorked a long pass into the end that was intercepted by Caleb Scott as the game came to an end. This was another big comeback road win for North this season. The Bulldogs came from behind against both Norcross and Mill Creek in their home stadiums earlier in the season.
The game featured two outstanding running games. For North, CJ Leggett totaled 159 yards and four touchdowns on 40-yes 40-carries. The Hawks answered with backup QB Richardre Bagley running for 150 yards and two third quarter scores. Bagley had come on for Elijah Ironside after the starter suffered a concussion lat in the second quarter.
Scott had nine catches for 92-yards to lead all receivers.
North advances to their second semifinal round with the win.
The Eagles of Collins Hill (11-2), like North, overcame a double-digit deficit to grab the lead away from the McEachern Indians (11-2) with under a minute to play. Unlike North, Collins Hill couldn’t hold on to the lead they had fought so hard to gain. Taj Griffin took a Collins Hill punt at the McEachern 18 and shot up the right sideline, outrunning everyone and scoring to put the Indians back on the lead with less than a minute left.
After coming from a 28-10 deficit late in the third quarter to a 32-28 advantage with less than 60 ticks of the clock remaining in the game, losing on a 80+ yard punt return will be tough to shake but the Eagles and their fans have much to be proud of this season.
Griffin not only returned the punt for the winning TD, but he racked up 151 yards on 22 carries to lead the ground attack for McEachern.
The Dacula Falcons (9-4) fell behind Colquitt County 28-0 in the first quarter and never really challenged the Packers in a 42-17 loss. The Falcons didn’t cross the goal line until the final quarter, when they did it twice as Colquitt was giving younger players some game time.
The Buford Wolves (13-0) continued their march to the Georgia Dome with another strong win, this time against Carver (Columbus) by a 30 point margin, 36-6. Despite the win margin, Carver played Buford tougher than any team this season. The 36 points scored by the Wolves is the fewest in a game this season, and is only the second time Buford has not scored 40 or more.
Norcross and Colquitt County will play in a rematch of last year’s semis, which the Blue Devils won 41-27 on their way to the state title.
North Gwinnett will face McEachern next week.
Buford will be making their seventh semis in a row when they play Callaway this Friday.
All game locations will be determined by coin flip.
Watch for full Gwinnett Semifinal Preview on Wednesday
After a 4-1 week in the Quarterfinals, Examiner is now 80-21 for the season in game projections and 17-4 in the playoffs.
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