ATLANTA - The 7-on-7 championship game in the inaugural Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge saw the depth of the Northeast team defeat the speed of the Southeast squad in a 32-25 final.
The Northeast's path to the championship was anything but easy. After dispatching of the Southwest team easily in the first game of round-robin play, they fell by more than 20 points to the Southeast in the two teams' first meeting. They bounced back with a close win over the West, earning a berth in the finals and a chance to avenge their earlier loss to the Southeast.
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Northeast quarterback Christian Hackenberg had a rough outing in game one against the Southeast, throwing four interceptions, including two to safety Marcell Harris of Orlando. But it was Hackenberg's play that was the catalyst to his team's win in the Championship game.
Passes over the middle weren't working in the first game, so Hackenberg went to work with a combination of short passes in the flats and longs passes down the sidelines to put points on the board for his team.
Hackenberg's top target in the final game was running back/slot receiver Taquan Mizzell, who caught three touchdown passes of 25 yards or more. The 5-foot-10, 184-pound Mizzell is known for his run-after-catch ability, making his string of long touchdown catches surprising.
The Northeast needed Mizzell to fill the roll of slot receiver after the team's regular slot, Jalin Marshall, was forced to leave the championship game at halftime to catch his flight home.
Northeast tight end Josh McNeil, who had been a favorite target of Hackenberg's all day, also left at halftime to catch his flight, while receiver Marquez North missed the second half of the day after suffering a mild concussion. Defensive backs Jalen Tabor and Kendall Fuller played both ways in the second half, but it was Mizzell, receivers Laquon Treadwell and Tyler Boyd along with running back Derrick Green who did the most damage in the championship-clinching second half.
The Southeast team lost their final two games after looking unbeatable in the first two games of the day. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey was named the MVP of the event, playing his best two games against the Northeast team. He completely shut down North in game one, and finished with two interceptions in the championship.
As good as the Southeast secondary looked at times, their collection of pass catchers were dominant all day. Earnest Robinson, Taj Williams and O.J. Howard each made spectacular catches, while running back Greg Bryant was extremely effective as quarterback Johnathan McCrary's safety valve.
Southwest players made a strong case to play in the championship game with a late flurry in round-robin play. The Northeast, Southeast and Southwest teams each finished round-robin play at 2-1, but the Southwest missed out based on total points scored.
Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes showed his ability to be a gamer by stepping up and making some of his best throws of the weekend in wins over the West and Southeast teams. The No.1 ranked dual-threat quarterback finally got on the same page with the nationâ€™s top wide receiver, Ricky Seals-Jones, as the duo connected on several post patterns after Seals-Jones got behind the defense.
Defensively, the Southwest team was led by a 2014 prospect, Monroe (La.) Neville safety Laurence Jones. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound rising junior plays with a lot of range and got his hands on a number of passes throughout the day.
No team was significantly worse than the others, but the West finished round-robin play with an undistinguished 0-3 record. The only lopsided loss for the West was their finale against the Northeast, and even that game was close in the first half.
The West lost a close 22-20 contest to the Southeast in Game 1, which featured three interceptions from Romoland (Calif.) Heritage cornerback Darius Allensworth. Quarterback Max Browne was consistent throwing the football throughout the day, but did not have the talent at wide receiver other teams featured.
The 7-on-7 competition is highly dependent on wide receivers and quarterbacks developing chemistry, and the Northeast was the team that most consistently clicked on Sunday. For that reason, the trophy for the inaugural Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge will reside in the North for the next year.
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