HOOVER, Ala. - The National Select 7-on-7 Championships was to be a culmination of high school football 7-on-7 teams from across the country with teams representing 12 states.
However, as the teams were eliminated one by one, only two stood above the rest. It was an all-Alabama final with one team from the capital city, as Montgomery (Ala.) G.W. Carver was set to battle one of the best from the port city of Mobile in McGill-Toolen.
After the two met in the finals of the winners bracket, a game which McGill-Toolen captured, a rematch was set for the finals.
And one game simply would not do.
Montgomery Carver won the first game of the championship series, 30-19, and forced a second and deciding winner-take-all title game.
"Keep fighting, fight through it," Carver coach Al Pogue would shout at his team from the sideline.
The Carver team, which played 15 games en route to the title, fought on.
The Wolverines wrapped up the finals by two points, 25-23, and took home the national championship crown on Saturday at Buccaneer Field.
"The kids deserve this," Pogue said after the game. "People didn't give us much of a chance entering this event, but we believed. We believed in each other."
As the tournament played out, Carver was making believers out of everyone, led by the play of sophomore quarterback Jeremy Johnson.
"We started off slow," Johnson said. "But coach came to us and told us we could do it. And we really believed him. He was right."
Johnson, who stands 6-foot-6, was one of the shining players in the tournament. His ability to throw the deep pass is what kept Carver in many games. And with the moxy of a seasoned veteran, his leadership down the stretch fed his team.
"This is getting easy," he said after throwing a touchdown in the finals.
If the game does begin to slow down for the youthful quarterback, it could spell trouble for teams in Alabama come the regular season.
Especially if he can continue to develop his report with his go-to receiver, Antonio Pitts.
Pitts, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs in at 180 pounds, displayed nothing short of spectacular ball skills throughout the entire event. He was consistently catching the ball in traffic as well as skying for balls that initially appeared to be incomplete passes.
"Those jump balls are just as much me as they are Jeremy," Pitts said. "He puts the ball in a great spot where I can go up and get it."
The play of Pitts and Johnson were not limited to the championship series. The pair was a consistent threat throughout the tournament.
"Those two guys played great for us," Pogue said. "They are special kids but it wasn't just those two. This was a team effort and we all will be celebrating."
It is a well-deserved celebration and one that, according to Pogue, will propel the team to better things in the regular season.
"They can't take this away from us, this is our first championship of the season," he said. "The kids can take this one and build from it. Then, God willing, we can take home a state title this year too."
Mauk earns tournament MVP
Kenton (Ohio) High was not able to duplicate its title runs it made at the Notre Dame and Vanderbilt passing camps, but the team did not go home empty handed.
The Wildcats' talented junior quarterback Maty Mauk was selected as the tournament's most valuable player by the coaches and media.
Mauk's play was consistent and steady. He displayed great strength as well as accuracy through the team's pool play win and run to the semi finals.
Thomas Jefferson found its quarterback, sort of
Jefferson Hills (Pa.) Thomas Jefferson has been rotating three quarterbacks for most of the entire summer.
Come the end of play this weekend, coach Bill Cherpak may have found his signal caller.
"I have seen what I needed to," Cherpak said. "All the guys had their chances."
While Cherpak wouldn't specifically call the competition over, the rising senior Ryan Crouse took most every meaningful snap in the double elimination tournament after rotating with Dominic Pesto and Joe Carroll.
The Class AAA power from the Keystone state will open its season Sept. 4 against Florida Class 2A defending champions Cocoa (Fla.) High.
This and that
Olive Branch (Miss.) High's invitation to next year's event may just get lost in the mail. The Conquistadors defeated host school Hoover in the second round of the tournament and then eliminated Hoover in the losers bracket as well.
Springdale (Ark.) Shiloh Christian was the tournament disappointment. With players shuffling in and out of the lineup, the Saints were never able to get in a rhythm and were eliminated in the first game of the day by Jacksonville (Fla.) Mandarin Christian.
One of the players who missed time for Shiloh Christian was running back/defensive back Garrett Harper. He left the team Friday for a one-day camp at Troy looking for an offer. After running a 4.63 40-yard dash, he did not get the offer he was looking for.
The best one-liner from the day came from a fan of Springdale (Ark.) Har-Ber. During the team's first game against Griffin (Ga.) High, trash talking was at a premium, including Griffin's linebacker taunting the Har-Ber bench with "enjoy the ride back to Arkansas." Following a last second touchdown pass by Har-Ber to take home the victory, the fan yelled back, "Sorry, we won't be able to hear you from Atlanta." Har-Ber lost its next game.
Despite being eliminated before the semifinals, Roebuck (S.C.) Dorman was awarded the tournament's sportsmanship award for its demeanor and play during the tournament.