Special Photo: David McGregor. North Gwinnett quarterback C.J. Uzomah throws a pass during the National Select 7-on-7 Qualifier hosted by the Bulldogs on Friday at Gary Pirkle Park.
SUGAR HILL -- In the grand scheme of things, wins and losses matter little to high school football teams in summer 7-on-7 passing leagues and camps, even ones as talent-laden as North Gwinnett's National Select 7-on-7 Qualifier.
That doesn't mean the passion to win is totally gone for the players and coaches involved.
The intensity and emotion was every bit as hot as the weather from pretty much every team as bracket play concluded the tournament Friday at Gary Pirkle Park.
That was true of the championship game, where host North Gwinnett finished just a yard away from a score and possible tying two-point conversion attempt in falling 25-17 to tournament champion Olive Branch of Mississippi.
But perhaps an even better example was an elimination-bracket quarterfinal game that pitted the Bulldogs against Region 7-AAAAA rival Norcross.
It wasn't quite like a late October showdown for the region title, but if North's spirited 18-14 victory -- culminated by Scotty Hosch's touchdown to Joe Jones with 24 seconds left and a late defensive stop -- is any indication, both the Bulldogs and Blue Devils are already fired up for the season to start.
"It's really great when you have the out-of-state teams and you get the fresh competition," said North coach Bob Sphire, whose team finished with a 6-2 record on the day and went 10-4 for the tournament, and will join Olive Branch at the National Select 7-on-7 Tournament next month in Hoover, Ala. "But there's really nothing like rivalries. ... And (close games like this) are pretty common, particularly as you advance in these (7-on-7 tournaments)."
Norcross and coach Keith Maloof can attest to that. The Blue Devils, who went 3-2 on the day and got strong play from the likes of quarterback Ronald Rose and running back Kendrix Huitt, earned their way into the game with North by edging Etowah thanks to two points earned for a defensive stop on the game's final play.
While Maloof agrees that results aren't that important in the long run, he hopes the experience gained in both the wins and losses in those close games Friday will be lessons remembered by his players who participated when similar situations arise during the season.
"It's competition and that's what we want," said Maloof, whose Blue Devils finished the tournament with an 8-3 record. "(The players have) got to know that they've got to fight all the way to the last second. And we did that (Friday)."
Late game intensity proved to be just one lesson learned by the teams involved.
For some teams, there were also other lessons to be learned.
For teams like Central Gwinnett, it was learning to bond together around new head coach Todd Wofford.
And Wofford generally liked what he saw throughout the Black Knights' 3-5-1 performance over the two-day tournament.
"What it does is helps with the team chemistry," Wofford said. "And what it really does is, it's actually practicing on the run. So, they're learning on the fly. It makes them have to learn a lot faster than just lining up against each other in practice.
"That helps out a lot. They're kind of ahead of the game with that, and they're actually ahead of the linemen."