NORCROSS — North Forsyth’s shot at a program-changing win Friday night at Norcross just barely slipped out of reach — literally.
Late in the third quarter, Norcross quarterback Charles King slipped out of a sack, weaved his way around two more Raider defenders in the backfield and hurled a 37-yard strike to a receiver who’d taken advantage of the extra time to get behind the Raider coverage.
Thus, a 3-0 potential-upset-in-the-making became a 10-0 lead for Norcross, and the Raiders’ offense couldn’t overcome the soggy field to make up any ground, eventually losing by a 17-0 final.
“That’s what they do,” said Raider head coach Jared Zito. “They’re a big-play team, and we made a big mistake there. It definitely changed the game.”
Despite the key letdown, Zito said he was proud of his defense for its effort. In fact, the coach had a lot to be proud of: In his resurgent troops’ effort against the two-time defending region champions, North outgained the Blue Devils in total yards, 322-283, grinding out 284 yards of their own on the ground.
The defense limited the Blue Devils’ star running back D.J. Adams to 135 yards on 21 carries and picked off a pair of King’s passes. A North ball carrier gashed the Norcross defense for a carry of 20 yards or longer four times.
Yet for all the progress, there were plenty of opportunities for the Raiders to win the game that went unseized.
Norcross muffed the punt at the end of North’s opening drive, and the coverage team couldn’t fall on it. The Raiders lost a pair of their own fumbles, one of which set up the King touchdown pass and the other killing a drive in Norcross territory. And North quarterback Eli Chester was stuffed on a fourth-and-short on the offense’s only trip to the red zone in the first quarter.
Zito said he had no qualms over taking the early fourth-down gamble, citing the team’s need to be aggressive in trying to score on the road.
“We knew footing was an issue for the field goal unit, but more importantly, we had told our kids that were here to win, and that was what we were trying to do,” Zito said of the ill-fated quarterback sneak. “It was definitely a statement.”
Zito wasn’t done gambling, and eventually it paid off. After North was cheered onto the field at halftime by the fans, who left the bleachers en masse to make a human tunnel for the players from the fieldhouse, the Raiders promptly attempted an onside kick and recovered the ball. Three downs later, they faced fourth-and-short on the Norcross 40.
Opting to go for it again, this time Tyler Slaton gained 12 of his 137 yards to convert.
The offense couldn’t get another first down, however, and on fourth-and-7 from 25 yards out, a field goal went wide left.
While the ground game was solid, North couldn’t find the balance to keep Norcross on its heels. Chester was 3-for-8 passing for 38 yards, with two of the completions coming in the final seconds. He was also sacked four times.
“We didn’t plan on passing a whole lot, especially with the weather,” Zito said. “We felt that we could get it done up front and we couldn’t get into a drop-back passing game against their pass rush.”
With the North offense struggling more as the game went on, Norcross’ second touchdown, a 15-yard rush by fullback Peter Poole, was essentially the game-clincher with 9:28 to go in the fourth quarter.
North (2-3 Region 7-AAAAA, 3-4 overall) is on the road again this week, heading to No. 7 North Gwinnett.