ATLANTA – Walton looked like the younger and less experienced team it was set to be during the first three quarters of Saturday's season opener against Norcross.
However, in the fourth quarter and with their backs pinned against the wall, the Raiders looked like veterans.
Trailing by 13 points with less than 8 minutes remaining, Walton kept its composure and found a way to reel off 14 unanswered points to secure a 21-20 victory as part of the Corky Kell Classic at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I told the kids at the beginning of the day that we're going to find out what kind of team we are,” Walton coach Daniel Brunner said. “They're resilient, they're hard-working and they never quit. Our boys found a way at the end of the game.”
Trailing 20-7 with 7:53 left to play, Walton (1-0) knew it was running out of time, based on the way Norcross (0-1) had controlled the game the last two quarters.
Two plays into the ensuing drive, sophomore quarterback Zak Rozsman connected to a wide-open Julian Bumper, who dashed down the Walton sideline for a 78-yard touchdown.
Just like that, the Raiders were a touchdown away from taking the lead.
They just needed a stop from their defense, which did exactly just that. Walton held Norcross to a three-and-out, with Jonathan Chesser and Titus McBride combining for an 8-yard sack on third down.
Then, Norcross gifted Walton with a personal-foul penalty during the punt, which put the Raiders 26 yards away from potentially taking the lead.
KD Stokes, who finished with 92 yards on 22 carries, started the drive with a 10-yard pickup. Two plays later, he escaped Norcross rushers in the backfield to pick up another 16 yards to the 2 before getting into the end zone on a 2-yard run.
With 3 minutes left in the game, Norcross marched into Walton territory, but a 44-yard field goal attempt by Kellen Grave de Peralta with 12 seconds left came up short.
“That was the craziest game I ever experienced,” said Rozsman, who threw for 238 yards and a touchdown. “We knew we were down, but we all kept our spirits up.”
Walton made its share mistakes early on after graduating most of its skill players from last season. There were 15-yard penalties that aided Norcross, and what looked to be a sure touchdown run by the Raiders early in the third quarter was fumbled away.
Justin McConnell was about 5 yards from the end zone after catching a 52-yard pass before the ball was stripped by Norcross.
“I knew we were going to bounce back from that,” Rozsman said. “I knew that I could count on all of them, and I knew it wasn't going to define the game for Justin, our receiver.”
After Walton got on the board first during the first quarter on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Rozsman to Teagan Bierria, Norcross responded with two unanswered scores in the second quarter to take the lead, and the Raiders appeared to have taken control of the game.
A 12-yard touchdown run by Kaleb Jackson tied the score at 7-all, and quarterback Mason Kaplan put the Blue Devils in front 14-7 on a 15-yard pass to Jaylen Green with a minute left in the half.