Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan
Grayson Robert Nkemdiche (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Byrnes High School’s “B team” of Duncan, S.C., during the fourth North Gwinnett National Select 7-on-7 Qualifier football tournament at Gary Pirkle Park in Sugar Hill on Friday.
SUGAR HILL — Grayson relied on the arm of quarterback Nick Schuessler last year to reach the National Select 7-on-7 tournament.
The Rams used a pair of quarterbacks on Friday to get back to the national meet.
Tyler Knight and David McTier led Grayson to a runner-up finish at the North Gwinnett National Select 7-on-7 Qualifier at Gary Pirkle Park.
“Those guys were unbelievable,” Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. “We lost a tremendous quarterback in Nick Schuessler, who is now playing in the SEC at Mississippi State. They have a lot to live up to and I think they handled the pressure extremely well.”
Knight and McTier alternated series and the duo led Grayson to a 39-22 win over Byrnes’ B team in the consolation finals. Grayson lost to Byrnes B 31-15 in pool play on Thursday and 21-14 in the quarterfinals of Friday’s double elimination tournament.
“Honestly, I don’t think our kids were ready to go,” Byrnes coach Chris Miller said. “I’m not taking anything away from Grayson because it was a fight to the wire in that last game.”
Grayson faced Byrnes’ A team in the championship and lost 35-21. The Rams had a 14-12 lead early in the game and then Byrnes made two defensive stops and scored two touchdowns for a 29-14 lead to pull away with less than two minutes in the game. Both teams qualified for the national tournament in Hoover, Ala., on July 26-28.
“It’s always great to win,” Miller said. “The kids want to win, but it’s about getting better and what can we do from here to prepare us to win a state championship.”
Byrnes is the defending state champion in South Carolina and has won four of the last five state titles.
After Grayson lost to Byrnes B in the quarterfinals, the Rams had to win a pair of games to get a third shot at the Rebels with a shot to Hoover on the line.
“We needed a win,” Conn said. “The first time we played them, we dropped a lot of balls.”
Knight was 10 of 16 with three touchdowns, while McTier was 8 of 10 with two scores in the third game. Korey Schaeffer, who was named the tournament’s top receiver, caught four TDs. Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s No. 1 recruit at defensive end, caught a touchdown pass down the left sideline. His score put Grayson ahead 31-14. Kasey Gaines also had an interception in the win.
“That’s what’s good about double elimination. If you lose you get a chance to comeback,” Conn said.
Sphire sees progress with North
Both of North Gwinnett’s teams were knocked out of the tournament early on Friday, but head coach Bob Sphire still liked what he saw with his team.
The Bulldogs were able to use a variety of players at different position as they try to fill the depth chart.
“We’re still trying to find out who can really play for us,” Sphire said.
Michael Haynes and Hayden Sphire continued to battle for the starting quarterback job by alternating series.
“I was pleased with our quarterback play,” Sphire said. “They gave us a chance to win every play.”
North’s A team beat Northview 44-42 on Friday morning, but then lost to Langston Hughes 27-12 and James Clemmons 31-16 to be eliminated. North’s B team lost to Shiloh 23-16 and Centennial 42-16.
“We had a better day today than yesterday,” Sphire said.
Central’s Johnson likes new D, still Auburn bound
Central Gwinnett’s defense allowed 32 points a game last year, so head coach Todd Wofford brought in a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme.
The Black Knights have only had a month to work in the new system, but star linebacker Trey Johnson already likes the change from the 3-4 for a 4-3.
“It has an attack to every offense, which I like,” Johnson said.
Central went 0-2 during Friday’s passing league tournament, losing to Spartanburg 27-16 and Cherokee 28-24. They were 3-6 in for the two-day tournament.
“We did good,” Johnson said. “We have a lot to improve on defense and offense. It’s a new defense and we’re still trying to learn it, including myself.”
Johnson committed to Auburn during his sophomore year and nearly two years later he’s still committed to the Tigers.
“I’m still committed,” he said. “I just went down there Sunday through Tuesday to hang out.”
Johnson is the state’s top rated linebacker and still gets visits from coaches around the country. He still plans to use his four final official visits this summer and fall. He plans to go to Penn State, Miami, Southern Cal and Notre Dame.
“It’s just to see, just to make sure Auburn is a great choice,” Johnson said.
Hobbs pleased with Shiloh’s effort
Troy Hobbs has been Shiloh’s head football coach for less than three weeks.
The Generals only got four days of spring practice, so the Thursday and Friday’s passing league tournament was the first time Hobbs got to really evaluate his team.
“This is what I’ve been preaching the whole time — effort,” Hobbs said. “We played with a lot of effort. we got better over the two days. They are giving the effort we need to win now. Is it the effort we’ll need in the fall? I don’t know.”
Shiloh went 1-2 during tournament play on Friday, beaten North Gwinnett B 23-16, but lost to Byrnes A 30-8 and Cherokee 32-24. The Generals finished the tournament 2-8.
“All we talked about is giving great effort, playing every down and playing for 20 minutes,” Hobbs said. “We came here not knowing how many games we would play. It was just about getting in reps.”