Milton 30, Norcross 23

Credit: Christina Matacotta/For the AJC

Credit: Christina Matacotta/For the AJC

No. 7-ranked Milton seized control in the first half of Friday’s second-round matchup against visiting Norcross with a 41-yard touchdown completion from Luke Nickel to Scott Moskowitz and a 26-yard pick-six from Brayden Holmes just three plays later, ultimately defeating the Blue Devils 30-23 to set up a quarterfinals showdown with Grayson.

The Norcross defense has been stellar all season, averaging 14 tackles for a loss per game and forcing 22 total turnovers through last week. True to form, junior Andre Thompson intercepted Milton quarterback Luke Nickel on the Eagles’ opening drive and returned it to the 2-yard line, and Norcross got on the board moments later with a touchdown from Nakai Poole (the extra point was no good).

Milton finally found some success on a late first-quarter drive that was extended by a DPI call that brought the Eagles into Norcross territory. Coming out of a timeout called by first-year head coach Ben Reaves Jr, Nickel and Moskowitz connected for the 41-yard score to take the lead, and Holmes’ pick-six on the first play of the second quarter gave the Eagles a 14-6 edge. Senior DE Owen Phillips then sacked Watkins on the next Norcross possession, and Nickel scored on a keeper to extend the lead to 21-6.

Drew Duva added a 34-yard field goal for Norcross later in the second quarter, which ended with an interception thrown by backup Blue Devils quarterback Zaire Goff. Watkins, who finished the first half 4-of-15 for 76 yards and a pick, returned in the second half and was quickly sacked by Wyatt Smalley to force a punt, which was blocked in the end zone by Clemson-commit Rob Billings for a safety. Late in the third, Watkins picked up 1st-and-goal on 4th-and-5 with a pass to Poole, then ran it in.

Norcross marched into Milton territory early in the fourth as well, but a sack from Terence Spencer Jr and Phillips and Bryce Thornton’s pass break-up on 3rd-and-13 led to another Blue Devil punt. Milton was unable to capitalize, giving the ball back to Watkins, but he fumbled it on 4th-and-2 and Phillips came up with the recovery at the Norcross 41. Moskowitz took an 18-yard trip to the end zone on the next drive for a 30-16 lead with 4:20 remaining before Goff took the field again and connected with Poole on a 17-yarder to make it a one-score game. Billings picked up a pair of first downs for Milton, however, and the Eagles ran out the rest of the clock.