Oxford Chargers cap summer on national stage
HOOVER, Ala. — Win and go home with a trophy was the focus of the Oxford Chargers as they entered the second day of the National Select 7-on-7 Championships Saturday.
Seeded right in the middle of the 32-team field following a 3-4 showing in pool play, the Chargers wanted to have a better showing, and finish, on the final day of competition.
Last season, the Chargers finished fourth out of 32 teams that made up the tournament held at both Hoover High School and the fields adjacent to Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The annual tournament pits some of the nation’s top high school programs and skill players in a two-day event that features schools from 14 states this year.
Heading into Saturday’s first game against Shenendehowa (N.Y.), Hill wanted to see his team play with more passion, or as he described it, “play like their pants are on fire.”
“We’re in, now we just got to win out and win early to avoid the loser’s bracket,” Oxford head football coach Johnny Hill said heading into the second day. “The first four games Friday, I thought we played hard. I thought we played well. I don’t think we played smart all the time, but I thought the effort was there. After lunch, I just don’t think we played very well. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because we lost two close games that we had a chance to win.”
Oxford lost two of its games Friday by a combined four points, and one late when North Gwinnett (Ga.) was able to score twice on long throws. The Chargers were better on defense in the opener on Saturday, stifling several drives and long throws with sticky man coverage. On offense the Chargers started slow, but quarterback Jack Abraham improved, hitting Kyree White for touchdowns and throwing for three overall.
Rain that hit Mississippi Thursday made an appearance on Friday and Saturday at the tournament. While the temperatures were much cooler than in 2013, the rain seemed to bother teams to a certain extent.
“I know that it sprinkled pretty hard, but we’ve played in that before and others teams played in it and it didn’t slow them down,” Hill said. “I think it was more mental. We didn’t stay focused. And you can’t do that when you’re playing in this type of a tournament.”
Hill put a couple of new plays in for the Alabama trip, one near the goal line and one for the middle of the field; but the offense that the team employs during the season was the one that was going to be focused on.
“We run what we run and it’s about getting your timing down,” Hill said. “There are some guys that didn’t play for us last year, and we’re trying to see what our combinations are so we can move the football this year. We also have two new safeties and some different linebackers that are trying to get ready for next year.”
Creating depth heading into the start of summer drills is one of the biggest reasons for playing in the tournament. With the exception of one player, Hill took all of his two-deep (a total of 25 players) in the skill department on the trip.
“We’re doing that so that we don’t wear them out,” Hill said. “This tournament is a point of duration. You have to keep winning and surviving and hopefully you have enough at the end when it counts. It goes back to that old saying, ‘It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.’ We’ve got to learn from each game, compete and get better.”
Oxford came into the tournament seeded 17th out of the 32 teams and went 3-2 Saturday. The Chargers opened the day with a 31-8 win over Shenendhowa out of New York before falling to Brandon 30-23 to drop into the loser’s bracket.
The Chargers remained alive before lunch by edging Neuqua Valley of Illinois 23-22 and then throttling Dutch Fork of South Carolina 26-7. Hoover defeated Oxford 20-12. The Chargers finished 6-6 overall.
Warren Easton out of New Orleans, a team the Chargers defeated to win the Ole Miss 7-on-7 title earlier this summer, defeated Spanish Fort 28-19 to win the championship this year. Brandon, seeded No. 1 after pool play, was eliminated in the semifinals by Spanish Fort.