Norcross 17, North Gwinnett 10

The two-time defending champs are very much still in the mix.

Norcross made big plays on offense, defense and special teams and upended rival North Gwinnett, 17-10, Friday in a rematch of last year’s Class AAAAAA state championship game.

Quarterback Jacob Gassert threw a touchdown and rushed for another, and the Blue Devils’ defense shut down a North Gwinnett attack that entered the game averaging 40 points.

The Blue Devils (5-1) slipped out of the rankings, after a shutout loss to Milton in Week 3. They’ll be back this week, after knocking off North Gwinnett for the third time in the last four meetings, including last year’s 31-14 win in the state championship game.

Norcross receivers Jared Pinkney, Jared Simpkins and Josh Alexander all made big plays for a Blue Devils’ offense  that has been inconsistent the first half of the season. Alexander’s 39-yard reception set up Blake Bingham’s 33-yard field goal and gave Norcross a 17-7 lead with 7:43 left in the fourth quarter.

North Gwinnett quarterback John Urzua marched the Bulldogs inside the Norcross 5-yard line on the ensuing possession, but had to settle for a chip-shot field goal from Brad Harvey that cut the deficit to 17-10 with three minutes to play.

The Bulldogs would get one last possession with less than two minutes to play, but a sack by Norcross’ Damon Woodcock was followed by Kendrec Grady’s sealing interception for the Blue Devils.

North Gwinnett (5-2) hurt itself with penalties and mistakes on special teams. Two Norcross drives were extended by roughing the punter calls on the Bulldogs. North Gwinnett also lost a fumble on a punt return, which the Blue Devils turned into points in the third quarter.

After Antonio Bailey recovered Chase Young's fumble at the North Gwinnett 46, Gassert hooked up with Pinkney on a 40-yard completion to the Bulldogs' 6-yard line. A pass interference call on 3rd and goal gave the Blue Devils another chance, and Gassert ran around the right end for a touchdown that put Norcross up 14-7 early in the second half.

The game was tied, 7-7, at half. Norcross struck first on an 86-yard touchdown pass from Gassert to Pinkney. The big play came on a 2nd-and-46 early in the second quarter.

North Gwinnett answered right back with Jordan Frye returning the ensuing kickoff to the Norcross 15. Two plays later, Urzua hit Daniel Imatorbhebhe to tie the game.

The Blue Devils were threatening at the North Gwinnett 5-yard line late in the first half, after a 61-yard catch and run Simpkins. But backup quarterback Griffin Barker mishandled a snap on 1st and goal, and North Gwinnett's Avery Elford recovered the fumble to keep the game tied at halftime.