Wildcats come up Short at Corky Kell, loses to Norcross

| August 23, 2015

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ATLANTA — After giving up an 80-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game, followed by an 84-yard touchdown drive, the Norcross defense looked like it might be in for a long day Saturday against Valdosta at the Georgia Dome in the Corky Kell Classic.

But the Blue Devils settled down after the first two possessions and only allowed two more scoring drives the rest of the day from the Wildcats.

Norcross recovered four fumbles in the game, while also turning the ball over four times itself on offense, and got an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jacobe Burrell as it held on to defeat Valdosta 34-31.

Quarterback Baron Radcliff ran for touchdowns of 57 and 42 yards as he finished with 130 yards rushing, while also connecting with Jordan Palmer for a 23-yard score. The junior also threw an interception and fumbled twice in the up-and-down season opener.

“I was proud of the way they came out after an adverse play when it should have been a pick-six and it turns into a touchdown for them,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. “Those are things that can be corrected and we got better as the game went on, defensively especially. I know you don’t ever say you played great defense when you give up (31) points, but I thought our guys did some great things today.

“We’ve just got to keep people out of the end zone. Overall, defensively we got better and on offense we just need to clean up. We’ve got to get rid of the mistakes and clean things up and I think we’ll be OK and we’ll just get better.”

The game started off at a lightning-quick pace. On the second play, Valdosta scored on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Seth Shurman to a streaking Tim Griffin.

Norcross responded on its first play from scrimmage as Radcliff escaped for a 57-yard touchdown run down the right side. The Wildcats found paydirt again on the ensuing possession as Shurman capped off a 10-play, 84-yard drive with a four-yard TD pass to J.J. Strickland. A Radcliff interception led to a field goal and a 17-7 lead for Valdosta.

Radcliff bounced back from the pick and led Norcross on an eight-play, 73-yard touchdown drive. The junior signal-caller threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Palmer to make it 17-14 with 1:52 left in the half.

Forcing the Wildcats to settle for three after they took over on the Norcross 23 seemed to give the Blue Devils’ defense some life. On Valdosta’s next five possessions, Norcross forced three three-and-outs and recovered two fumbles.

Norcross cashed in on the second Wildcat turnover as Max Tracey, who entered the game on the previous series, connected with Robert Sims for a quick score and Norcross’ first lead of the game at 21-17 with 2:21 remaining in the half.

In the second half, Norcross extended the lead on Radcliff’s 42-yard touchdown run, but the extra point was blocked to make it 27-17.

Valdosta responded with a 99-yard kickoff return by Jayce Rogers to make it a three-point game.

Norcross once again had an answer for the Wildcats’ big play. This time Burrell returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards down the left side for a touchdown and a 34-24 lead.

“I think it was huge,” Maloof said. “I think it was really big responding after they had returned one where the kick was as perfect as we want it, pinned in that corner, and we just let him out. Jacobe returning it for a touchdown was big for us. That was a huge, huge turnaround for us in the game when momentum was fixing to go their way.”

The Blue Devil defense forced two straight punts after the kick returns, but the offense fumbled it away on consecutive possessions before Valdosta was able to put together a 46-yard touchdown run capped by a three-yard Strickland run with 1:03 left in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter the Norcross defense was in full control, forcing two punts and a fourth fumble. Linebacker Chris Allen led the way with 10 tackles and a forced fumble in all. Robert Beal recorded two tackles for loss and forced and recovered a pair of fumbles.

Darral Porter and Kendrec Grady also recovered fumbles for Norcross.

Maloof said the difference for the defense after its early struggles was that guys like Allen, Beal and Jalen Pinkney were able to put pressure on Shuman.

“We let (Shuman) extend the play way too much in the first quarter,” Maloof said. “On one drive we let him extend the play two or three times and we’re not that kind of team. Any time you let a guy extend the play, somebody is eventually going to come open. Those are the things that have got to be corrected. We’ve got to keep him in the pocket, can’t let him run out, things like that.”

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