By Chris Whitfield
For the past several years, Colquitt County High School’s football team has made a lot of long trips from South Georgia up I-75 to face some of the Peach State’s best programs during the postseason.
Some journeys have taken the Packers around the I-285 perimeter of Atlanta and up I-85 into Gwinnett County. One took them all the way to the Georgia Dome for the Georgia High School Association’s Class 5A state championship. Their postseason trips have often been successful — the Packers are 11-3 mark on the road in the state playoffs over the past four years — but none of them have ended in a title win.
The Packers made another long trip up the interstate this weekend for the Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship in Dalton.
They didn’t go back home empty-handed.
Colquitt County — which has lost to the eventual state champion each of the past four seasons while advancing to three state semifinals and a title game — lost just once in pool play on Saturday and ran the table again during bracket play Sunday to take home the overall championship trophy at the third installment of The Daily Citizen’s annual tournament. This year’s competition included 40 teams, with the top four squads in each of six pools advancing to the championship bracket and the rest competing in a consolation bracket on Sunday, when the tournament was double-elimination until the title games.
The Packers beat 2012 Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship winner Cartersville 27-9 in Sunday’s championship bracket semifinals and then beat the same Purple Hurricanes 29-15 in the overall final.
Cartersville had topped Kentucky’s Bowling Green — which beat Colquitt County in pool play and went on to finish third Sunday — in the losers’ bracket final to earn a rematch with the Packers for the title.
“This is big for your confidence,” Colquitt County coach Rush Propst said. “It is important to spend time on trips together like this, and we have done it a lot throughout the past four years. To come up here and get a win over some really good competition is a good way to finish up the summer workouts.”
Packers quarterback Daniel Mobley was named the championship’s Most Valuable Player. He said the trip was a a good building experience for this year’s team.
“Mainly, the last couple of years we have lacked the character and the leadership to get over that championship hurdle,” Mobley said. “We have had the athletes, and now we are working on the teamwork and the discipline. I put a lot on my shoulders to be the leader of this team.”
Propst said his team would have another week of workouts, take a few days off and then return with the official start, per GHSA rules, of preseason conditioning on July 25. But he said the quality of the competition at the Southeastern would be a good primer for when the pads go on Aug. 1.
“Like any competitive team, we came into this weekend expecting to win it, but we knew we would get some good competition from Cartersville and Bowling Green,” Propst said. “But there were a lot of great teams here, and I was really impressed with Northwest Whitfield and Dalton and a lot of the other teams we faced. There was some really top-notch competition.”
Among the local teams in the championship bracket, Northwest had the best finish, falling 33-27 to Fletcher Christian in the losers’ bracket quarterfinals on a 40-yard touchdown pass in the waning seconds. Dalton, which lost to Colquitt County 15-6 after winning two games to start the day, lost 32-17 to Fletcher of Neptune Beach, Fla.
Colquitt County edged Griffin 13-12 to set up its first meeting with Cartersville, which had beaten Northwest 39-30. Cartersville then toppled Bowling Green to earn a second chance against the Packers.
Cartersville struck first in the championship game on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Brooks Barden, but the Packers answered with a goal-line scoring pass from Mobley to Sihien King. The Purple Hurricanes still led 7-6 after the failed extra point pass.
The Colquitt defense then earned three points with an interception, and Mobley and King hooked up again with the running back taking a dump pass, showing some deft cuts and scoring from the 18. The Packers wouldn’t trail again, getting a stop on defense and then getting another waterbug touchdown from King.
Despite the loss, Cartersville coach Frank Barden said his team gained plenty from the competition.
“It was a great weekend for us,” he said. “We have definitely gotten better. There were a lot of things that we saw this weekend that we will use to help prepare these boys for the season ahead.”