Murray County didn’t win the overall title at the five-team seven-on-seven high school football tournament held Saturday at Northwest Whitfield, but the Indians were victorious.
It was a significant achievement for a team that didn’t win once during the regular season last year.
The host Bruins beat North Murray 27-19 in the championship matchup, while Southeast Whitfield was third and Murray County finished ahead of Gordon Central.
The five teams played each other once in pool play. Each team then had two games in bracket play. Northwest coach Josh Robinson and offensive coordinator David Crane both said they hope to make the inaugural event a recurring one.
“We’d like to have maybe eight teams next year and a few more the next,” Crane said. “I don’t ever want to make it too big, but I think we have enough field space for a 16-team thing.”
Seven-on-seven football is a stripped-down version of the game high school teams play on Friday nights in the fall, with no tackling or linemen involved and offensive plays restricted to passing. In addition to informal weekly competitions, commonly known as passing leagues, some teams take part in more structured events. For instance, teams from all over the country play in The Daily Citizen’s third annual Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship on July 13-14 at four sites in Dalton.
In Saturday morning’s pool play at Northwest, North Murray went undefeated, beating Northwest 23-22, Murray County 35-14, Southeast 23-13 and Gordon Central 31-6. Northwest beat Southeast 29-22, Gordon Central 38-3 and Murray County 22-12. Southeast beat Gordon Central 12-6 and Murray County 23-21, while Murray County beat Gordon Central 22-21.
In bracket play, the Indians beat Gordon Central 13-10 but lost 46-12 to North Murray. Northwest beat Southeast 37-12 in the other semifinal. Southeast beat Gordon Central 24-9 in the consolation game.
Winning was something the Indians didn’t do last season. They finished 0-10 one year after going 2-8 — with both wins coming via forfeits — but ushered in a new era this spring as former Northwest defensive coordinator Chad Brewer took over as head coach at Murray County.
“There were some times in a few of these games where our kids could’ve quit, could’ve ducked their heads, but they didn’t,” Brewer said. “They battled back and scored a couple touchdowns at times when we needed to tie some games late.”
Zach Broome, a returning three-year starter at middle linebacker, said opponents probably imagined the Indians would struggle to stay competitive on Saturday. But of their four losses, two were by 10 or fewer points.
“Whenever we got off the bus, they probably did, but once we got on the field, we showed what we’re made of,” Broome said.
The top two finishers — North Murray and Northwest — are breaking in new starting quarterbacks. The Mountaineers played Hinton McConkey each snap because Peyton Swilling is recovering from a broken hand.
“He played well,” North Murray coach David Gann said of McConkey. “He threw the ball well and on time. I can’t tell you how much our team has improved from the Cam Newton event two weeks ago to now.”
The Mountaineers finished 2-6 in the North Division of the Cam Newton Foundationl 7-on-7 Championship held June 1-2 in Kennesaw.
Northwest used Caleb Shiflett on all but about 10 snaps, Robinson said. Shiflett tossed three touchdown passes in the championship round to help the Bruins win.
“He’s learning from his mistakes,” Robinson added.
“The mistakes he made early on he wasn’t making later.”
Southeast had senior Rhett Harper back at quarterback and wide receiver after his 2012 season ended early due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“Rhett looked very good. His recovery is coming along nicely,” Raiders coach Sean Gray said. “This was a great chance for us to get out, work on our pass routes and compete.”