July 14, 2014

Southeastern 7-on-7: Back-to-back for Colquitt County's 'Pack'

Colquitt County High School’s football team came to Dalton and won the Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship last year.

The Packers returned this summer, the fourth year for the passing-only event, and did it all again — this time toppling the host city’s Dalton High in the championship game.

Colquitt County won 18-10 in the title game Sunday at Lakeshore Park’s synthetic turf fields against a team that made a long run through the loser’s bracket of the 16-team championship bracket. Playing in their eighth game of the day, the Catamounts fell behind 18-0 as their comeback stalled.

“We like things the hard way,” Dalton coach Matt Land said joked. “When we lost (in the opening round), we knew we had the long road. Our kids and coaches knew we had a hard road but put their heads down and played it out with the hand dealt to us.”

The 32-team tournament, hosted by The Daily Citizen and AstroTurf, started Saturday with four groups of eight playing round-robin style. The top four teams in each pool advanced to the championship bracket, and the bottom four teams in each pool played in Sunday’s consolation bracket, which Christian Heritage won.

Colquitt County is a member of the Georgia High School Association’s Class 6A — its highest classification — while the Cats will move up to 5A this school year after competing in 4A the past two.

Packers coach Rush Propst, who is credited with starting the seven-on-seven craze in the early 2000s when he was a coach at Alabama’s Hoover, gave Dalton compliments after the game.

“(I told them) that they have a chance to have a great football team,” Propst said, “and they are a first-class organization with first-class coaches and players and a first-class community.”

Colquitt County and Dalton may have been destined to meet Sunday. They tied 20-20 in a Pool A game on Saturday and finished tied atop the pool standings. Dalton leaped ahead via tiebreaker — fewer points allowed — and claimed the top seed. Colquitt County, though, made the most of its berth by winning all five of its games. Dalton lost 32-20 to Cartersville in the opening round but won six straight games to reach the championship, an all-or-nothing contest.

Payton Veraldi, Dalton’s senior quarterback, said the team gave everything it had but the long day didn’t help the Cats.

“I think that did play a factor in the game,” he said.

Colquitt County scored a touchdown on the opening drive and held Dalton at the goal line on the following possession. Defensive stops are worth two points and interceptions are worth three. Colquitt followed with another touchdown and an interception from Javonta Woods to build its 18-0 lead.

Dalton’s defense held at the goal line and Veraldi — the Pool A MVP — found Jordon McKinney for a touchdown. Following the two-point conversion — extra-point attempts were tries to reach the end zone from 10 yards, and two-point tries were from 15 yards — Dalton trailed 18-10 with four minutes left. With a defensive stop and offensive score, the Cats would be tied or ahead.

Colquitt, though, converted a first down on fourth-and-short with one minute remaining when junior quarterback Chase Parrish completed a pass to wide receiver Kiel Pollard. Parrish is a new starter for the Packers, who have reached at least the state semifinals the past five seasons.

“I thought Chase got better as a football player,” Propst said. “I saw some things from our kids we liked. ... Summer is important for our quarterback situation and the secondary, where we don’t bring back a single starter.”

Bob Jones, from Madison, Ala., won the tournament in its inaugural year. Cartersville won in 2012.

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