ATLANTA, GEORGIA – Saturday’s 2022 season opener for No. 10 state-ranked Brookwood against Norcross in the 2022 Corky Kell Classic was far from perfect.
The Broncos lost the turnover (2-1) and time of possession (29:50-18:10) battles and were penalized eight times for 55 yards.
That said, you’ll hear few complaints from Brookwood coach Philip Jones, since his team still found a way to come up with big plays when they were needed most to come from behind in the fourth quarter and edge the 25th-ranked Blue Devils, 28-24, Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I liken it to a heavyweight fight,” Brookwood coach Philip Jones said. “It was two really good football teams going back and forth the whole game. We kind of played behind the whole game, so it’s a testament to our team's character the way they kept battling back. Norcross extended the lead, we kept battling back… We hung in there to take the lead and make a big stop and put the game on ice (late).”
Indeed, the Broncos (1-0) trailed for most of the afternoon before coming up with a decisive, and controversial, play early in the fourth quarter.
Two-sport Alabama-committed quarterback Dylan Lonergan lofted a pass towards the left corner of the end zone with Lee Niles battling Norcross defensive back Lionel Burns III and both leaping into the air and apparently simultaneously gaining possession of the ball.
A pass interference penalty was going to be called against Norcross, but the officials first had to come up with a ruling on the play, which eventually turned out to be a 24-yard touchdown that gave Brookwood its first lead of the game at 28-24 with 10:15 remaining.
“All I know is, (the officials) withheld making a judgement for a while,” Jones said. “Then, once they looked at the video board, they decided, ‘You know what? That was a touchdown for Brookwood.’”
That play was one of several big ones that Brookwood came up with to stay in the game against a Norcross (0-1) team that had several standouts of its own, like quarterback A.J. Watkins, who amassed 229 yards of total offense and accounted for a touchdown each on the ground and in the air, as well as Power Five conference commits Zion Taylor (Georgia Tech, 7-91 receiving, 52 kickoff return yards) and Nakai Poole (Mississippi State 7-63).
Two of the bigger ones came from senior receiver and three-sport standout Bryce Dopson, who piled up 225 all-purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns, both of which came at most opportune moments.
The first came just 15 seconds after Watkins’ 17-yard TD run gave the Blue Devils a 14-0 lead with 6:12 when Dopson returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a score.
The second was on the final play of the half, when Dopson collected the deflection of Lonergan’s desperation pass in the end zone as time expired for a 35-yard score that helped the Broncos answer a Druw Duva field goal and head into intermission trailing just 17-14.
“That one was pure luck,” Dopson admitted. “It was a good throw by (Lonergan), and … it was kind of like the Georgia-Auburn play a couple of years ago.”
But while there was a little bit of good fortune both on that play and Niles’ catch that provided the decisive points, the two big plays made later in the final frame spoke more to Brookwood’s ability to dig down deep in the clutch.
Noah Holton’s interception in the end zone with 4:30 remaining prevented Norcross from jumping back into the lead.
Then with 2:12 remaining, Jones and his offensive staff were faced with a crucial decision facing fourth and a yard from their own 29, with a first down putting Brookwood in position to run out the clock, but with a turnover on downs giving Norcross one more big opportunity to win.
“We felt like (going for it) was the right call to make in that situation,” Jones said. “We liked our offensive line and our quarterback in that moment. I knew we had just one yard to get, and if we could get it, we’d put the game on ice.”
Lonergan, who didn’t have his best game, but still finished 12 of 22 with an interception for 186 yards and two TDs and ran for 78 more yards and a score, made sure Jones’ decision was the right one by following the surge of his line to not only pick up the first down, but then break away for a 42-yard gain to give the Broncos a chance to run out the clock with less than two minutes to play and Norcross having to burn its last timeout.
And the way Dopson sees it, Brookwood’s ability to come up big when it mattered most against a quality opponent like Norcross only portends even bigger things down the road this season.
“Norcross, obviously, is one of the best teams in the state,” Dopson said. “So going down … back-to-back touchdowns before halftime was definitely a big momentum change. We just came together (as a team), and all of us are best friends. So we got in the huddle right before the fourth quarter said we were going to win the game.”