Cartersville and Martin Luther King Jr. developed a bit of a seven-on-seven football rivalry this summer, and this weekend Dalton became the two schools’ newest battlefield.
With the championship on the line, it was the Northwest Georgia school that got the upper hand.
Cartersville’s Purple Hurricanes beat the Atlanta-area school 24-12 in Sunday’s title game at James Brown Park to win The Daily Citizen’s second annual Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship.
Sunday’s bracket play followed Saturday’s pool play for the 32-team event, and four teams from each of the four pools made up the 16 teams in the double-elimination championship bracket; the remaining teams competed in a consolation bracket that was won by Dalton High. The four pool winners were: Alabama’s Florence (Pool A); Kentucky’s Bowling Green (Pool B); Cartersville (Pool C); and Pierce County (Pool D).
In the championship, Cartersville scored on all four of its possessions, with junior quarterback Brooks Barden throwing all four touchdowns to his wide receivers — two to junior T.L. Ford, one to sophomore Kalin Heath and another to senior Hayes Linn.
The Lions’ Monqautus Johnson threw two touchdowns, one to Demarquis Polite and another to Romello Shumake, but twice he and the MLK Jr. offense failed to score and keep up with Cartersville.
With the score 18-12 and time ticking down, Linn made an acrobatic catch around a Lions’ defender — who was called for interference — to set up the final score to Ford with 2:45 to play.
“He’s our best player” Purple Hurricanes coach Frank Barden said. “We’ve played (MLK Jr.) a lot this summer. We rise to (play them).”
Linn said it was the 10th time facing MLK Jr.’s defense in seven-on-seven play. Brooks Barden said it’s too high to keep count.
“Too many,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”
The two teams played in Pool C on Saturday — Cartersville won 19-13 to take the pool — and again Sunday in the championship tournament’s winner’s bracket final. The Lions got revenge with a 31-25 win, their fourth of the day, then sat and waited for Cartersville to defeat Pierce County 19-12 in overtime before playing the Purple Hurricanes again.
“That’s the first game we lost today,” said Lions coach Michael Carson. “We were able to get them earlier today. They executed when they needed to. Let me tell you, (Linn) is a great receiver.”
MLK Jr. was in last year’s inaugural Southeastern and lost to Alabama’s Bob Jones in the semis.
“Coming here with 32 teams and being one of the two in the title game says a lot,” Carson said. “Hopefully we’ll get back next year and possibly win it all.”
The Lions went 5-2 in pool play and finished 9-3 overall. Cartersville went 5-1-1 in pool play and 10-2-1 for the weekend.
But the road for the Purple Hurricanes was not without some bumps. After the loss to MLK Jr., they had to fight out of the loser’s bracket and rally to beat Pierce County.
Trailing 12-6 with around a minute to play, Barden and Ford hooked up for a score on fourth-and-goal to tie the game. In overtime, Cartersville again had a fourth down to score and Barden hit junior Josh Cooper. The Purple Hurricanes kept Pierce County from answering on the scoreboard.
“Anytime it’s a competition, the same things will happen,” Brooks Barden said. “Your nerves are running and adrenaline is kicking in.”
The quarterback’s dad believes those situations are some of the most valuable about seven-on-seven play.
“It’s mental reps, too,” coach Barden said. “Being in two fourth downs helps us for October and November.”
Pierce County coach Sean Pender agreed. His squad was responsible for booting the defending champs from the tournament via a 20-19 elimination game.
With Pierce County ahead 20-13, Bob Jones scored a touchdown in the final seconds and then had the extra-point attempt broken up by the Bears’ Dillon Veal as time expired in the game.
“Earlier when we were playing Cartersville, it was a momentum-swing play,” Pierce County coach Sean Pender said. “And you say that throughout. These tournaments get you used to do-or-die situations.”
Pierce County was third while Bob Jones was fourth. The Patriots’ “B” team lost in the consolation tournament semifinals to Ringgold.
“We had two teams in the tournament and the ‘B’ team is still playing,” Bob Jones coach Kevin Rose said after his first team lost to Pierce County. “We definitely had a great weekend all around.”