Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

July 13, 2014

Defending champion Wildcats finish second in 7-on-7 qualifier

VALDOSTA — Valdosta High wasn’t able to defend its National Select 7-on-7 Georgia Qualifier championship Saturday.

But the Wildcats did the next best thing at Lassiter, advancing back to the championship game and earning a second straight trip to the national championship in Hoover, Ala., this upcoming week.

“Certainly we all wish we would have been able to win that last one,” Valdosta coach Rance Gillespie said in a phone interview after his Wildcats finished second in the 32-team tournament.

“There’s very few teams, because you’re competing against 32 teams when you’re in one of these things, there’s very few that get to go to Hoover back-to-back. We’re proud of that. And we have a lot of kids back from last year, and we’re excited to go back to Hoover again this year and perform over there next week.”

During Friday’s pool play portion of the event, it didn’t look like the Wildcats were a serious threat to defend their title. Valdosta A went 2-2 and entered Saturday’s bracket play seeded in the middle of the field. Valdosta B, the Wildcats’ younger players, went 1-3 on Friday.

However, both batches of Wildcats came out reenergized Saturday, with Valdosta B going 1-2 in the double-elimination tournament, earning a 30-11 win against Mays sandwiched by losses to Jefferson (31-12) and Lassiter (28-18).

The experienced Wildcats, though, did their best to defend that state crown.

Following a 38-20 win against Centennial in its first game of the day, Valdosta A beat top-seeded Alpharetta 27-20. The Wildcats then beat Jonesboro 32-24 and blanked North Cobb 27-0 to advance to the winner’s bracket finale. There, Valdosta edged Hoover (Ala.) 23-16 to move to the championship game for the second straight season.

“We played some really quality football teams, and I thought the depth of this tournament was just really good,” Gillespie said. “Alpharetta is a heck of a football team. I think they had finished second in one of the other qualifiers. Jonesboro is very athletic and has some good players. And of course, Hoover is such a good football program.

“We played some really good football teams and a bunch of big football games. As a whole, for the tournament, I think our kids performed well and competed to a level that they were capable of.”

Key to the Wildcats’ run to the championship round was a balanced effort that featured big plays from throughout the roster, according to Gillespie.

“It’s really hard to, especially offensively, to pinpoint one indiviudal. We had so many kids that performed well for us throughout the day yesterday and throughout the tournament today,” he said. “Both quarterbacks played really well at times, Cole Massengill and Seth Shuman. We had Craig Barry that made several catches for us, Ricco Ramsey made several catches for us, Khalil McClain made some big catches for us, Kaleb Whitfield’s play was solid throughout the tournament. Jamarcus Tyson stepped up and made a ton of big plays for us.

“It’s really hard to pinpoint that one guy whereas last year Alex Cason was clearly the guy that played exceptionally well and made a ton of big plays for us. This year, we really did a good job of spreading the ball around and we had a bunch of guys that made plays.

“Defensively, it’s really the same thing. Joshua Norwood is a solid player, an outstanding player. But the two safeties played well — Tre Barrett and Rashay March. We got good linebacker play today and those three guys played well also. it’s really hard, especially at these things, to pick out one guy defensively that played well because if you’re going to win you better have a bunch of guys playing good on defense.

In the title round, though, the Wildcats’ magic ran out. Grayson, which hammered Valdosta 32-2 in Friday’s pool play, regrouped from a first-round loss Saturday morning to reach the championship and then edged the Wildcats 18-17 to set up a winner-take-all final. The Rams won it 31-9.

Still, Gillespie was proud of the Wildcats’ effort and excited about what his team can take away from the deep and talented tournament.

“It’s good for our kids to get put into those situations because it’s a pressure situation,” he said. “You know Friday nights are going to be pressure situations, and you have to perform under that pressure.

“It’s good for our kids outside of just getting reps in your schemes. There’s a lot of little things in these tournaments that I think are beneficial for your football program.”

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