Photo by Jason Mussell
Lovejoy senior linebacker Zane Fields is overcome with emotion as the Wildcats lose in the state title game on Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
ATLANTA - It wasn't the way Lovejoy had envisioned it to happen.
The Wildcats were supposed to be the ones that didn't buckle under pressure. After all, they had played on the big stage before.
But it was top-ranked Norcross that came up with the big plays during crunch time in Saturday's Class AAAAAA title game. And in the end, the Blue Devils rose to the occasion for a 21-14 victory at the Georgia Dome.
Norcross scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the last seven minutes and came up with an interception in the closing seconds to win its first state championship. It marked the third straight season that a team from Gwinnett County has won the state's largest classification.
"This was for our community," Norcross coach Keith Maloof said. "Lovejoy is a heck of a football team, but eventually we knew that we could wear them down. I told the team that we could get to them. It was the big plays that decided this game."
And in the end, Norcross was able to make more.
Down 14-9 late in the fourth quarter, Norcross running back Alvin Kamara caught a 61-yard scoring pass from Joseph Wilber to give the Blue Devils their first lead at 15-14 with 4:36 remaining. Kamara's reception came on a third-and-18 play from Norcross' 43-yard line.
"Things didn't go our way," Lovejoy defensive coordinator Kevin Jones said. "I love our guys, and they gave a good effort. It was a tough game Norcross made the big plays.
It was the second straight season that Lovejoy ended its season in the Dome in a title game. Last season, the Wildcats lost to Tucker in the Class AAAA title game. With the return of almost its entire lineup, Lovejoy had the makings of a potentially superb team. The Wildcats cruised to their third straight region championship, but the playoffs is where most were looking to see if the Wildcats were ready for big-time football.
Through the first four rounds, the Wildcats had more than proved themselves with another title run.
But Norcross seemed too good of a team to hold down for four quarters.
Lovejoy led 14-3 entering the fourth quarter and had a chance to end Clayton County's championship drought, which has expanded to 25 years. Morrow was the last team from the county to win a football championship in 1987.
But the players say they have left a lasting legacy not only for the school but the entire county.
The Wildcats, who finished the season at 13-2, became the first county team to play for consecutive titles.
"I'm proud of my teammates," Lovejoy standout running back Travis Custis said. "They fought every game and every down. It just didn't go our way out there."
Custis called Norcross the most physical team that Lovejoy has faced the last three seasons. The Georgia Tech commitment finished with only 59 yards on 19 carries, including minus one yard on 10 carries in the second half.
With Custis becoming a non-factor, Norcross started to heat up in the last two quarters.
When Norcross stopped Custis on a fourth-and-1 play on the WIldcats' 33-yard line, it gave Norcross the momentum and field position for another touchdown.
An interception by Norcross linebacker Jaquan Frazier in the closing seconds stopped a potential game-winning or tying drive.
"They were just executing on plays, and we didn't stop them," Lovejoy linebacker Nate Norwood said. "They came out in the second half on a high moment in the second half. They made the big plays when they had to, and we didn't do that."