CARSON, Calif. – Florida, California, Texas. The debate always rages as to which state has the best high school football. After the championship game of the adidas National 7-on-7 Championship Tournament on Thursday, bragging rights belong to Florida for this event. Pahokee, Florida's Class 2B state champion three of the last four seasons, won the tournament played at the Home Depot Center by defeating Encino (Calif.) Crespi when they scored a tying touchdown and a winning extra-point pass in overtime.
The championship game was a back and forth affair and it was obvious that both teams wanted to be crowned national champions. Pahokee, who went 5-0 in the tournament, got a physical game from Crespi.
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Championship goes into overtime
On the very first play, Pahokee tried to play bump on four-star tight end Joseph Fauria and the Notre Dame-bound athlete flattened the Pahokee defender, leaving Fauria wide open for a first down. Much to the credit of the Pahokee defender, he came up grinning from ear-to-ear looking to the sideline to see if his teammates were laughing, but more importantly the defender took it in stride.
It was about the only stumble on the day, and the tournament, for Pahokee as quarterback Anthony Sheppard twice led his team from behind for the victory. The first time came late in regulation and then the second time came in overtime for the victory.
Toward the end of regulation, Sheppard calmly entered the game with the clock running close to empty and quickly led his team right down the field. Big players make big plays when most needed, and Pahokee had some big playmakers.
Sheppard did a great job getting the ball into his playmakers hands, hitting Jenkins and three-star wide receiver in Martavious Odoms all the way down field. With time running out Sheppard hit Jenkins for a score that tied the game. Crespi's defense came up with a stop on the PAT, sending the game into overtime.
On the very first play of overtime, Cresepi quarterback Kevin Prince threw a deep strike to sleeper junior-to-be wide receiver Mikio Island for a touchdown. At this point, Crespi coach Jeremiah Ross decided to go for two. After all, Crespi had not made a one-point PAT in either game they played all day and maybe with more room Crespi will be able notch their first extra point of the day.
Crespi's talented young receiver Blake Stanton, a super sophomore prospect, had his man beat on the two-point conversion, but Prince threw the ball low and away and it fell incomplete.
Once again the calm and poised Sheppard led his team down the field with precision passes once again to his playmakers and quickly tied the score. Like Crespi, Pahokee was also having trouble making their extra points but this time Sheppard threw a dart to Odoms, who held on for the win and the championship.
Respect for Fauria
Despite the defeat, before the day was done there was whole lot of respect given to Fauria for his performance. A true sign of respect was when Pahokee's lockdown cover guy Janoris Jenkins was covering Fauria and the big tight end still made plays throughout the game. Throughout the tournament, many times when Crespi needed a play Prince dialed up his big tight end.
Junior-to-be wide receiver Kevin Cummings and Stanton also made plays for Crespi, who held its head high despite falling in the title game. One hook-up from Prince to Cummings darn near gave the Pahokee coaching staff a nervous breakdown. It was a third and forever that the Crespi duo picked up the first down on a long bomb.
The tournament semifinals featured Pahokee against another high quality Florida team in Miami Gulliver Prep, and Crespi battled Houston Stratford and blue-chip quarterback Andrew Luck. But from the outset, it was very apparent Pahokee had more athletes than Gulliver Prep and that Crespi had more playmakers than Stratford.
For Stratford and Gulliver Prep to have any chance at winning they had to make the plays that were there.
Luck did his part, proving once again why he's one of the nation's premiere quarterbacks.
He was again on target and making all the throws but some of his teammates couldn't come up with the catch. With the game against Crespi still in doubt, Luck threw one over the top to a wide open receiver that landed perfectly in his target's hands for a would be touchdown, but the ball fell harmlessly to the ground. Even with the loss, it's obvious that Stanford landed an outstanding quarterback in Luck, and he is an excellent get for Jim Harbaugh's rebuilding effort for the Stanford Cardinal program.
Just like Stratford relied on Luck to make big plays, Gulliver Prep had to depend on star junior-to-be receiver Conner Vernon to come through time after time. He did just that.
Vernon made one sensational while getting covered by one Florida's best cover corners in Jenkins. It was a crowd pleasing catch to say the least, but in the end there was too much Jenkins on both sides of the ball. Jenkins and Sheppard simply made too many plays setting up the championship run.
In the end if there was an MVP given out for the tournament, it would have to have been given to Sheppard. Sheppard consistently made the plays his team needed to make for Pahokee to go through the tournament undefeated. It is true that Sheppard had his playmakers making plays it can't be taken away his leadership and poise when the pressure was at its most.