DALTON, Ga. - The dejection was clear to see on the faces of the Northwest Whitfield High School football players as they walked out of the Dalton Parks & Recreation football complex Sunday. It was a welcome sight for head coach Josh Robinson.
The Bruins lost consecutive games on the final play after reaching the winners' bracket semifinal of the Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship Sunday, so the disappointment was earned. It also showed their coach that winning is important, no matter the situation.
"We lost some tough ones, but we're pleased with where we are," Robinson said. "These guys are pretty darn good out here, so that is some consolation in that we played them all good. The guys want to win, but the biggest thing to come out of this is they believe they can, even against really good teams, and they're very disappointed when they don't."
Northwest, which went 5-1 in Saturday's pool play (the only loss was another final-play defeat), defeated Jackson, Mo., and Bowling Green, Ky., early Sunday, lost to defending champion Cartersville on the final play in the semis then fell to Fletcher, Fla., after scoring with 15 seconds to play to take the lead.
Among the Bruins' bright spots was the play of new starting quarterback Caleb Shiflett. In two days of leading the offense Shiflett threw 41 touchdown passes against only four interceptions.
"He had a great weekend overall," Northwest offensive coordinator David Crane said. "He was really sharp and efficient. We had 46 possessions, and we scored on 41 of them. Andy Whisenant and Tevin McDaniel, our two wideouts, played really well as well and made quite a few plays. It should be a confidence-builder for Caleb, especially when you consider we played against so many outstanding athletes."
The next-highest finishing local team was Dalton, which went 3-2 in the championship bracket on Sunday before also losing to Fletcher. Baylor and Christian Heritage went 1-2 Sunday, while North Murray and both Ridgeland teams were 0-2. Making Dalton's run even more impressive was the fact the Catamounts were playing without five injured starters.
"I felt good about the team's performance," coach Matt Land said. "We had some kids step up into the positions vacated by the five starters that were out and give us some quality reps. Those are guys I now know I can depend on in the season. We're very excited."
North Murray and coach David Gann, like Northwest, Dalton and Ridgeland, will start a new quarterback this season and he was pleased with junior Hinton McConkey as well as the return of Payton Swilling from a broken hand.
"They were excellent," Gann said of his quarterbacks. "Over the weekend Hinton threw 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions. It's nice to get Payton back as well. They'll compete for the job, but both will be on the field because they're two of the best athletes in the school."
The other Chattanooga-area schools in the tournament, McMinn County, Brainerd, Howard, Coahulla Creek and Southeast Whitfield, played in the consolation bracket Sunday. Colquitt County, Ga., went undefeated Sunday to win the tournament, defeating Cartersville in the final.
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.