For the first time since Lassiter quarterback Eddie Printz assumed the role of Trojans' starting quarterback, Lassiter did not claim the Georgia Invitational 7-on-7 tournament title. The three-peat bid fell short as the Trojans could not come out on top of the event, which featured 24 teams from across the Southeast. The event, which qualified the host and winner for a national 7-on-7 tournament in Hoover, Ala., next weekend, was a success with multiple teams standing out.
Hoover was the most noteworthy out-of-state team that made the trip for the tournament this weekend. They ended up beating North Cobb in the championship game to cap a perfect 10-0 record for the tournament. North Cobb was on top of its game all tournament, and the Warriors' only two losses were to Hoover, once early Saturday morning and then in the championship game. Printz and the Trojans will be at the Hoover tournament next weekend thanks to their automatic qualification as the host team.
This is the last 7-on-7 of the offseason, and many teams arrived looking sharp. Each team could only bring a total of 25 players, so other than a few plays for a quick breather, the starters got all of the reps, making this a very competitive tournament from start to finish. Day 1 of the two-day camp was strictly pool play used for seeding the teams for Saturday's double-elimination tournament. Each team played five games on Day 1. Hillgrove, North Cobb and Lovejoy each went undefeated on Day 1.
Once the teams were seeded and the double-elimination tournament began Saturday, upsets popped up all over the bracket.
One of the bigger surprises came when North Gwinnett sent the Lassiter Trojans to the losers bracket early on Day 2. North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire has been in what he described as "crisis mode" this entire offseason after having to replace 10 of his assistant coaches in the past 18 months, as well as, his star quarterback from last year Scotty Hosch. When Score spoke to Sphire earlier this offseason, he was certain his team was going to get beaten up during in these 7-on-7's before the Bulldogs would hopefully develop to where Sphire needed them to be.
The Bulldogs tied the Walton Raiders in their first game of the tournament on Day 1 and rode that confidence into Saturday where they defeated Printz and the Trojans. The Bulldogs have made strides this offseason offensively, and, with a solid defensive performance, North Gwinnett was able to beat arguably the best 7-on-7 team and passing offense in the state for the past two years, at their own game.
The Cherokee Warriors exceeded expectations as well. The Warriors, who struggled last season, were able to beat Walton and North Gwinnett Friday and MLK Saturday. They were competitive all tournament before Lovejoy and North Cobb finished their run.
The Kell Longhorns made some noise Day 2 after escaping Day 1 with only one loss to Hillgrove. The Longhorns lost to a talented Lovejoy team early Saturday, and in the losers bracket would be matched up with a Lassiter team fresh off their Bulldogs defeat. The Trojans had the ball and a 13-12 lead over the Longhorns just before time expired. By rule, if the defense holds the offense from scoring it receives two points. Printz overthrew an open Dickey on Lassiter's final down and the two Longhorn points ended the tournament for the Trojans with the last-second 14-13 Longhorn victory. The Longhorns' impressive tournament run was ended by Hoover later on.
The Walton Raiders had two close losses to North Cobb and Lassiter that knocked them out of the tournament. In the North Cobb matchup, Walton running back Tyren Jones dropped a wheel route that would have given the Raiders the late lead and kept them in the winners bracket. The Raiders and Trojans did not think they would meet up early on Day 2 in the losers bracket, but that is how it unfolded for the East Cobb rivals. McLeod's game looked solid, but once again a costly drop, this time by a wide-open DJ Smith, hurt the Raiders. Smith streaked past the Trojans' new safety Chris Murphy, who transferred in from Harrison this last month, on what looked like a miscommunication with the coverage. Smith, who is a starting defensive back and two-way player for the Raiders, mishandled the gift from McLeod, and Printz and the Trojans were able capitalize on the mistakes and send the Raiders home.
Lovejoy and Hillgrove looked great on both sides of the football in every contest. Lovejoy lost to North Cobb and Hillgrove, while Hillgrove lost to Hoover and North Cobb. These teams all matched up extremely well with one another, especially on the defensive side and collectively knocked each other out. At the end of the camp, North Cobb made it the farthest, but it was apparent that Hillgrove looked the most dangerous entering 2012.
The Hillgrove Hawks may struggle early in the running game this season with last year's star running back Kenyan Drake now playing for the Crimson Tide. The Hawks' defense and passing game is stellar, though and once again they look to be both talented and well-coached.
This marks the end of 7-on-7 events for most Georgia schools, and the teams not headed to Hoover are now preparing for two-a-days and their Week 1 opponents. The 7-on-7's were competitive all offseason, and the Georgia Invitational displayed just how far some of these teams have come since winter workouts ended.