It may have been the summer but it wasn’t just two random schools playing for a 7-on-7 championship. It was Valdosta and Byrnes, two schools rich in high school football tradition and history. The competitive juices were flowing from both players and coaches as though it were the fall. Valdosta rose to the occasion making key plays to prevail as the second team from Georgia to win the Palmetto State Showdown in its six-year history, defeating host and No.1 seeded Byrnes in the championship game.
Byrnes scored on their opening possession when 2012 record-setting quarterback Shuler Bentley- passed for a South Carolina record 59 TDs in 2012, found Shaedon Meadors for a touchdown. Bentley hit Tavin Richardson for the extra point giving Byrnes a 7-0 lead. Valdosta was unable to score on their first possession giving Byrnes a 9-0 lead with 13:30 remaining.
Trailing 9-0 after the first four minutes of play, Valdosta would not fold. The Wildcats from ‘Titletown’ stopped Byrnes on their next possession to make it 9-2. Following the defensive stop, Byrnes committed pass interference and defensive holding penalties keeping the Valdosta possession alive. Valdosta cashed in on the extra downs as Cole Massengill hit Malcolm Joseph for a touchdown and Caleb Whitfield on the extra point to tie the game 9-9 with 7:20 remaining.
The potent offense of Byrnes was on the move again and were inside the fifteen yard-line with a fresh set of downs when Valdosta linebacker Anthony Smith intercepted a Shuler Bentley pass giving Valdosta a 12-9 advantage with 4:10 remaining. Valdosta was unable to add offensive points and Byrnes pulled to within one, 12-11, after the defensive stop. Byrnes was moving again but on third down and short Bentley’s pass fell incomplete giving Valdosta a 14-11 lead with 39 seconds left and the Wildcats ran the clock out on their final offensive possession for the win.
You can watch the Valdosta/Byrnes championship game beginning at the 8:48:00 mark here.
Valdosta fielded two teams in the tournament and the ‘A’ team won the title as a No.3 seed in the tournament after going 8-2 in pool play action and 12-2 overall. One of their two losses came to the Valdosta ‘B’ team. In the tournament Valdosta ‘A’ defeated No.19 seed Union County (SC), No.6 seed Daniel (SC), No.15 Erwin (NC) and No.1 seed Byrnes (SC). Valdosta’s ‘B’ team finished pool play 6-4 and were the No.7 seed in the tournament losing to No.10 seed Gainesville (GA) in the first round to finish 6-5 overall. Combined both teams were 18-7 overall with a championship game win and wide receiver Alex Cason was named Palmetto State Showdown MVP.
Valdosta earned a spot for the National Select 7-on-7 Championship in Hoover, AL July 24-26. Afterwards head coach Rance Gillespie was noncommittal on whether they would accept the invitation.
Byrnes ‘A’ was the only undefeated team after pool play with a 10-0 record and finished 13-1 overall for the event. The Rebels won the Auburn University 7-on-7 last week. Byrnes opens their 2013 regular season against Apopka (FL) in August. Apopka (FL) won Florida’s class 8A state championship in 2012 and have high-profile prospects returning. ESPN will televise the game.
North Gwinnett was 6-4 in pool play and finished 6-5 overall losing in the first round to eighth-seeded Byrnes ‘B’. North Gwinnett was the nine seed and had an 26-24 victory over Byrnes ‘B’ during pool play. After finishing as the North Gwinnett Qualifier runner-up to Olive Branch (MS) and winning the University of Georgia 7-on-7 tournament earlier in the week, Jefferson County (GA) posted a 4-5-1 pool play record and finished 6-6-1 losing in the quarterfinals to fifth-seeded Lakeside-Evans (GA). In National Select Qualifier events, Jefferson County is 12-12-1 and has an invite to Hoover if they elect to take it.
Lakeside-Evans (GA) was a 2012 class 5A playoff team in 2012 and went 7-3 in pool play and 9-4 overall, losing to Byrnes ‘A’ in the semifinals on the last possession as time expired 30-23.
Led by highly-touted quarterback and Clemson commit Deshaun Watson, Gainesville (GA) posted a 6-4 record in pool play and were 7-5 overall, losing in the second round to the tournament Cinderella Erwin (NC). Gainesville lost one of the vents more high-profile games to Byrnes ‘A’ 41-27 during pool play with many Clemson supporters in attendance. Erwin (NC) was the No.15 seed after going 3-7 in pool play. Erwin defeated No.18 Wren (SC) in the play-in first round, second-seeded Bergen Catholic (NJ) ‘B’ team, and Gainesville (GA) before falling to Valdosta in the semifinals finishing 6-8 overall.
Bergen Catholic (NJ) fielded an ‘A’ and ‘B’ team yet those teams were not split ‘varsity’ and ‘junior varsity’, they were split among starters and others on the depth chart, each being on both teams. Bergen Catholic has four quarterbacks vying for the starting job with two on each team rotating them by possession per team regardless of time and score. Bergen Catholic opens their 2013 regular season at 2012 “National Champion” John Curtis (LA) in August.
Southern Durham (NC) wide receiver Maurice Trowell was the main target for Southern Durham throughout much of the Showdown showing plenty of flashes of things to come. Southern Durham went 3-7 in pool play and lost to Byrnes ‘A’ in the second round to finishing 4-8 overall.
Jack Britt (NC), a class 4-2A state runner-up three of the past five seasons, was the only team that did not post a win finishing 0-11 overall. Jack Britt returns a pair of 1,000 yard rushers in 2013.
It’s the summer and you can’t but help to say to yourself, “what if the pads were on”. Still growth, reps and experience are important over the summer months. The high school football summer is underway and August practice and the start of the season is not to far away.