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North edges Central in all-Gwinnett passing tourney final

Norcross’ Jared Pinkney receives a pass during Saturday’s 7-on-7 Challenge at Central Gwinnett. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

Norcross’ Jared Pinkney receives a pass during Saturday’s 7-on-7 Challenge at Central Gwinnett. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

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Shiloh’s Jalen Hollingsworth hauls in a pass in Saturday’s 7-on-7 Challenge at Central Gwinnett. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

LAWRENCEVILLE — Sure, it’s still nearly two months before high school football teams from Gwinnett County and throughout Georgia officially begin preparations for the 2014 season.

But summer 7-on-7 tournaments are often the first indicators to coaches exactly what their teams’ initial building blocks are.

If that is the case, the six county teams in Saturday’s Gwinnett vs. Georgia 7-on-7 Football Tournament have to be pleased with their respective foundations.

“You like to see the competitive juices flowing,” North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said after his Bulldogs won the tournament with a 6-1 record, including a thrilling 37-36 overtime win over host Central Gwinnett in the championship game Saturday at Central. “There were quality match-ups all day long. … It’s not football, but it’s competition. … I like the way we competed.”

The Bulldogs competed hard all day long, dropping just one game during pool play before avenging that loss with a victory over Creekside in the tournament semifinals.

That win set up the final against Central, where North fell behind 14-0 before rallying to win in the extra period on a John Urzua touchdown pass to Daniel Imatorbhebhe and a two-point conversion toss to Tyler Knudsen.

But it was the detailed work that the Bulldogs’ quarterbacks, receivers and secondary got that pleased Sphire the most.

“You get a lot of work with all your coverage adjustments,” Sphire said. “From an offensive perspective, when you boil it down, it’s about individual players making individual plays. You’ve got to be able to execute schematically, but in order to win championships, you’ve got to have some guys win individually. So, they get into a lot of one-on-one battles.”

Sphire saw plenty of individuals making plays in addition to Urzua, Imatorbhebhe and Knudsen, as he singled out others like Josh Imatorbhebhe, Connor Kleid and Harold Johnson.

He wasn’t alone in being pleased with his team’s effort.

In the four years Central has hosted the tournament, the Black Knights have never advanced into the semifinal round.

So, their runner-up finish definitely has coach Todd Wofford feeling good about the progress his team has made, especially given the history in which teams that have fared well in the tournament have often gone on to do well the following season.

“You’ve got to have players, and you’ve got to execute,” said Wofford after Central went 5-2 for the tournament, including avenging its only loss of pool play by beating defending Class AAAAAA state champion Norcross in the semifinals. “But it does give you an indication of where you are in the summer — the chemistry, especially in the passing game. And from this (tournament), anyway, in the four years we’ve run it, one of the teams that have … played for (the championship) have had great seasons and great runs in the in the playoffs.

“The field that was out there (Saturday), with Creekside and Buford and Norcross and North, you’ve got a lot of teams that have won state championships or played for state championships, and they’ve got great plays. I’m proud of our guys for competing all day and playing toe-to-toe with a great North team with great coaches and great players. It’s a building block.”

Wofford said he specifically was pleased with several individuals, such as quarterback Eric Forrest, receivers Major Bellamy and Azavier Kufour, defensive back DeShawn Oliver and linebacker Tim Gary.

Gwinnett’s other four representatives in the tournament also fared well Saturday, with Norcross going 3-2 to advance to the semifinals, while Collins HIll went 3-2, Buford went 1-1-1 before having to leave early and Shiloh went 1-4.