JEFFERSON — The 7-on-7 high school football tournaments weren’t necessarily created as a results-oriented endeavor.
Don’t tell that to the players.
Grayson’s interception of a Jefferson pass in overtime Friday at Memorial Stadium to seal the Rams' 30-20 victory and a Dragons 7-on-7 championship sent the bench into a series of chest-bumps and high fives.
The Rams are just six months removed from winning a thrilling Class AAAAAAA state title and the celebrations were eerily similar. The thrill of competition has a way of bringing that out in every competitor.
The 7-on-7 tournaments are the first organized events for teams to begin preparations for the upcoming season. Most programs will participate in three or four such events during the summer looking to hone offensive play-calling, develop rhythm for quarterback and receivers, and to give pass defenses a chance to build chemistry in today’s up-tempo world of high school football.
Three area teams -- Jefferson along with Gainesville and Lanier -- took part in the Jefferson tournament and each were able to find more than enough positives after Friday’s action.
A runner-up showing for Jefferson had new coach Gene Cathcart smiling.
“We had a lot of quality teams here and they could all play,” Cathcart said. “This was a good day for us. We had our passing offense get time together and the whole group just really competed out there.”
The Dragons were the only local team to come into Friday’s tournament sporting a starting quarterback from last season. Gainesville will have its fifth starting quarterback in the last five seasons (beginning with Deshaun Watson’s senior season) and gave newcomer Tre Luttrell, junior, plenty of work behind center.
The young Red Elephants finished the day 3-5 and were knocked out in the first elimination round by Grayson, who was being led by DJ Irons, Gainesville’s starter last season.
“It’s a process. This is just the beginning,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “We are a mighty young team. This was the first time in this format for most of these kids.
“Tre had his bright spots and not so bright spots. But he got some good experience and he’ll learn from this.”
Lanier, which was also coming into the season with a new signal-caller in junior Zach Calzada, fell to Alpharetta in the first elimination round but managed to go 7-2 on the afternoon.
“We had a pretty good day. We always look to win but (the 7-on-7) tournaments allow you to work on some things. The guys really competed, especially on defense. We made a lot of (defensive) stops in a format that is designed for the offense.
“Zach had a good day. We’re really working with him to fine-tune some things as far as leadership. But we still have three more (tournaments) over the next month or so and I expect there to be a lot of progress made by the end of those.”
In the championship game the Dragons were just seconds away from knocking off Grayson for the title leading by as much as 20-12 and then clinging to a 20-18 lead in the final minute. The Dragons drove inside the Rams 5 but three attempts to score and seal the win were thwarted by a uber-talented secondary.
Teams are awarded two points for a defensive stop, which tied the game and sent it to overtime. Grayson scored on its opening possession for a 27-20 lead and then picked off a Bryce Moore pass on the final play of the game. Moore, a senior and the Dragons starter two years ago, split time with Colby Clark, who took over starting duties last year to form a devastating ground attack with running back Colby Wood.
“Both Bryce and Colby looked good. Bryce is a better runner than he is given credit for and Colby is a better passer than he is given credit for,” Cathcart said. “The problem is that it’s hard to take Colby off the defense. I think he played at every secondary position today. We feel like we’re in a good position and we’re going to use (the 7-on-7 tournaments) to see what works best for us.”