Photo: David McGregor. Grayson's Ryan Carter looks to intercept a pass intended for Norcross' Alvin Kamara in the Rams' quarterfinal victory at the North Gwinnett Select 7- on-7 qualifier at Gary Pirkle Park in Sugar Hill on Friday.
SUGAR HILL -- Yes, any high school football coach would easily trade a 7-on-7 championship in summer -- even one as prestigious as the North Gwinnett 7-on-7 National Select Qualifier -- for one in December.
But both Grayson and Norcross have plenty of positives to take away from making it to the finals of the tournament Friday at Gary Pirkle Park.
The Rams took away the most despite being forced by the Blue Devils into the "if necessary" game of the double elimination tournament by coming up with a 23-14 victory to take home the title.
"It is hard to make it to a championship (game) in anything, whether it's checkers or flag football like this or a state championship," said Grayson coach Mickey Conn, whose team went 9-2 for the two-day tournament and qualified for the national tournament July 21-23 in Hoover, Ala. "When you win a championship, it's special. It does mean a lot to these kids and what they put into it and all their hard work. I'm real proud of them."
Grayson had plenty to be proud of throughout the day, including beating Norcross in two of three meetings on the afternoon, plus a victory over South Carolina powerhouse Byrnes in the winner's bracket final and an earlier win over Olive Branch, Miss.
The Rams also came up with several clutch plays late in games, including late touchdown passes from quarterback Nick Schuessler, big catches from the likes of Korey Jones and Austin Meadows and a late interception by Devin Gillespie that helped seal the finals victory.
At the same time, Norcross (9-4 for the tournament) also has plenty to be proud of, especially coming up with wins over Olive Branch -- the Blue Devils' second over the Mississippi power on the day -- and Byrnes after being sent to the elimination bracket by Grayson, and then forcing a final game by beating the Rams 28-18 in the first game of the final round.
While the skills sets on display were limited by the format, the Blue Devils' ability to fight through adversity -- including the heat, as well as tough opponents -- are positive signs Keith Maloof and his Norcross coaching staff will take away from the two days of play.
"What you're saying is, these kids know how to compete," Maloof said. "They learned how to win (Friday) together as a unit. There's still a whole lot of elements to add in to win real football games, ... but this is a great boost to our team and great step into the 2011 season."
Maloof praised not only the work of quarterbacks Joseph Wilber and Bo Swanson, receivers Jason Croom and Anthony Autry and running back Alvin Kamara, but also a host of players in his secondary.
Central's learning curve turns upward
Central Gwinnett coach Todd Wofford can empathize with his counterpart at Dacula, Jared Zito, who is installing a spread offense for the Falcons for the upcoming season.
After all, the Black Knights got their first taste of Wofford's spread set in this tournament a year ago.
And after averaging 335.4 yards and 25.9 points per game in last year's 4-6 campaign, Wofford was pleased with how much more crisp his team was this week, especially with quarterback Eman Westmoreland and skill players like George Morris, Louis McGee and Daniel Louis in a bigger comfort zone, and newcomer Malachi Jones fitting right in.
"Westmoreland, he's night and day," said Wofford, whose team went 6-3 on the two days. "Now he knows where the ball is supposed to go.
"We're still young in some areas in the secondary, but overall, we had a 7-on-7 tournament at our place last week, and the last two days, we've shown dramatic improvement. Compared to this same point last year, it's light years ahead."
North moving on
despite early day
North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire hoped for more after the Bulldogs went through pool play 5-0 to earned the No. 1 seed Friday
But despite going just 2-2 on the day with wins over Dacula and Kennesaw Mountain and losses to Olive Branch and Jonesboro, Sphire still believes the experience should prove helpful to his team down the road.
North will join Grayson in the national tournament as a result of hosting the qualifier, which will only give the Bulldogs further experience.
"It was a good two days of work," Sphire said. "I didn't think we pushed through a wall after we got in the losers' bracket, ... but that's part of the learning process, too. There a lot of positives."