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Blue Devils defense carries them to title

Photo: Craig Cappy — Collins Hill's Amadi Stevens defends against Eagle Landing Christian Academy's Brad Moore during Saturday's 7-on-7 game at Central Gwinnett.

Photo: Craig Cappy — Collins Hill's Amadi Stevens defends against Eagle Landing Christian Academy's Brad Moore during Saturday's 7-on-7 game at Central Gwinnett.

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Photo: Craig Cappy Peachtree Ridge' David Lackett is tripped by North Gwinnett defender Robert Pucciarello during Saturday's 7-on-7 game at Central Gwinnett.

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Photo: Craig Cappy Collins Hill's Ryan England comes down hard during a 7-on-7 game at Central Gwinnett on Saturday. He is defended by Shiloh's Amari Newsome.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- After a day of offensive explosions, Norcross got a huge defensive effort in the championship game of the Gwinnett vs. Georgia 7-on-7 Tournament, beating Kell 17-12 to take the title.

Ridwan Issahaku, who moved from quarterback to cornerback, came up big with an interception early and a pass deflection late to seal the win for the Blue Devils.

"You have to get turnovers with this style of play," said Norcross head coach Keith Maloof. "We made some good plays and that helped us win this."

In 7-on-7 tournaments, there are other ways to score besides touchdowns. An interception is worth three points, while a defensive stop (three downs without getting a first) is worth two points. Touchdowns are still worth six and conversions are worth one.

Early in the championship game, neither offense could get much going. Issahaku intercepted Kell to go up 3-0, but the Longhorns responded by getting a stop of their own to make the score 3-2.

The teams traded defensive stops before Kell scored a touchdown to go up 10-5.

LaMarcus Hardnett had a touchdown catch and the Blue Devils added a conversion score to go up 12-10.

A Malcolm Galloway interception put Norcross up 15-10, but Kell stayed in it getting a defensive stop. But it wouldn't be enough as Issahaku got a pass deflection on the last play of the game to give the Blue Devils the win.

"We knew (Issahaku) was a player," Maloof said. "He still has some things to learn after moving over from quarterback. But I'm happy with how he's progressed."

The Blue Devils almost didn't make it to the finals as they had to come back against North Gwinnett in the semifinals. A late touchdown and an interception beat the Bulldogs 19-15.

Mill Creek fell to Kell in the other semifinal 23-14 as the Longhorns jumped out 17-0 to coast to the win.

Central head coach Todd Wofford said the 7-on-7s are especially important for his team since they have to replace three-year starter Eman Westmoreland.

"You lose kids every year, so it's always important to get extra reps in," he said. "For our new quarterback (Eric Forrest), these reps are especially important. He's getting live action and seeing what he needs to work on."

Wofford admitted his quarterback may not like him right now as he was nice during spring practice.

"It was an eye-opener for him," Wofford said. "But it's good for him. He's not used to me grinding the quarterbacks and he's getting that experience. He'll be mature with it and make the necessary adjustments."

Peachtree Ridge head coach Mark Fleetwood is likewise working in a new quarterback, along with two new coordinators.

"We're installing two new systems, so any number of reps we can get is good," Fleetwood said. "You always come in with the goal of winning these things, but the important thing here is that the kids learn during live competition. This is the place to get all of the mistakes out of our system."

North head coach Bob Sphire joked that his team played for last place last year in the same tournament.

"It's not about winning or losing here," he said. "We had a pretty good year despite not doing well in this tournament. We're focused on what we're doing and fixing the small holes."

Sphire added while his teaching colleagues are starting to enjoy the summer and relax, his is just getting amped up, which is something he is excited about.

"I have to have the best job in the world," he said. "I get to coach high school football. There's such a joy at watching these kids run around and have fun. That's why I keep doing it.

"These tournaments are about building a team and just having fun. And that's what we're going to do."