CHATSWORTH, Ga. - High school football coaches usually don't put too much stock in 7-on-7 competition results. However, it's easy to understand why David Gann believes last weekend could turn out to be a turning point for his North Murray team.
North Murray was the surprise of the field at the Cam Newton Foundation 7-on-7 regional tournament at North Cobb High School, finishing second in the two-day event and earning an all-expenses-paid trip to the national tournament July 10-12 in Charlotte, N.C. The Mountaineers, entering their fifth varsity season and still seeking their first winning year, defeated several state powers on their way to the runner-up finish.
"I can promise you, getting off the bus we didn't look like we belonged with most of the teams there," joked Gann, whose nine-man squad went just 4-4 on the first day before catching fire. "We were just the ninth or 10th seed Sunday, but we won our first game against Fitzgerald and just took off."
The Mountaineers then defeated Grady before upsetting No. 1 seed Roswell in the quarterfinals on a last-play touchdown pass from Hinton McConkey to Ray Harper. That set up a semifinal matchup with host North Cobb, which defeated North Murray 36-0 on Saturday with a quarterback headed to Auburn.
This time the underdogs won, 22-20.
"We had a lot of jitters Saturday and we got tired after the first couple of games," said McConkey, an upcoming senior who combined for nearly 3,000 total yards in his first season as a starter. "Our receivers and running backs really stepped up, and our defensive backs made some big plays. No doubt, when we walked in nobody gave us a chance, but we just caught fire and showed what we can do."
North Murray lost to Grady -- quarterbacked by Newton's little brother -- in the championship game, but Gann's team had already made its mark.
"We had several kids who stood out, including receivers Jordan Adams and Peyton Swilling and running back Drake McCowan," Gann said.
"Hinton really put on a show," he said of McConkey. "Because the other team had guys who were so much faster and bigger, he was throwing into NFL-type gaps. He definitely caught Cam Newton's eye. Cam is a character and he's always talking on the microphone, and he went on and on every time Hinton would make a throw."
McConkey, who has a college scholarship offer from West Georgia and is being recruited by several other schools, believes the experience can only help his recruiting while also boosting the entire Mountaineers team.
"I'm never satisfied, but it was a good weekend," he said. "Going to Charlotte for the national tournament will definitely help this team, and it will give us more exposure."
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