Lake Hamilton Wins Shootout of the South Crown

Chris Murray BioThe Lake Hamilton Wolves captured the championship in the ninth annual Shootout of the South 7-on-7 tournament on Saturday at the Mighty Bluebird Sports Complex in Little Rock.

The two-day, 20-team event culminated late Saturday afternoon, when Lake Hamilton defeated the Heritage Hall Chargers 37-28 in the finals. That capped an impressive three-game run, which saw the Wolves take down Allen (Texas), Fayetteville and Heritage Hall in the state’s premiere 7-on-7 competition.

Allen is the defending Texas Class 5A Division 1 state champ and 2006 Shootout winner, while Fayetteville is the two-time defending Class 7A state title-holder. With Heritage Hall, Lake Hamilton provided a matchup between the 2007 (Heritage Hall) and 2008 winners (Lake Hamilton). Heritage Hall is a private school in Oklahoma City, and plays in the state’s Class 3A.

“It’s a great feeling. I was really proud of the way our kids rallied,” said Jerry Clay, the venerable Lake Hamilton coach. “Definitely a very tough lineup. That’s why they call it the shootout. In our games against Fayetteville, both teams scored every time they had the ball. We just happened to score last.”

For most of the time during the event’s two days, game action was being held on four fields. It was pared down to two fields by the end Saturday, which were bordered by dozens of canopies set up for shade, with onlookers brandishing thousands of orange slices for the sun-baked players. Among the hundreds in attendance were former Hogs Clint Stoerner and Anthony Lucas, who know a thing or two about pitch-and-catch.

“We were happy to get 20 teams here, 15 from Arkansas, one from Texas and four from Oklahoma,” said tournament director Adam DePriest, offensive coordinator at Harrison, formerly an assistant at Pulaski Academy. “These guys come here and compete hard. Just really happy with the competitiveness, and a lot of really good games.

“The growth is unbelievable. When we started this, the biggest tournaments were eight teams, maybe 12. Now, you’ve got high school football players playing every weekend. Last weekend, I think there were eight tournaments. Ten or 15 years ago, you had very little.”

In the finals, Lake Hamilton trailed 14-7 in the first half (games were played with two 13-minute halves) before quarterback Nathan Sawrie’s touchdown pass tied the score just prior to halftime. The two teams traded scores in the second half, before the Wolves took a 28-21 lead with about five minutes left. On the next play, Donnell West intercepted Heritage Hall’s Connor McGinnis, which was worth two points in this format.

Two plays later, Lake Hamilton virtually sealed the victory as Sawrie connected with Trevor Mittelstadt – a frequent target on the day – for a long touchdown. The Chargers added a score in the waning seconds, but Lake Hamilton held on. The win for the Wolves also avenged a loss to the Chargers in a regional final on Friday. All four semifinal teams qualified for the 7-on-7U National Championship July 19-21 in Washington, D.C.

In the victory over Fayetteville, it was Sawrie-to-Mittelstadt that gave the Wolves the lead for good. Chris Eastburn then came up with a key interception to allow Lake Hamilton to hold off the Bulldogs.

Before the meeting with Fayetteville in the semis, the Wolves had to get past Allen, which brought with it plenty of Texas “Friday Night Lights” swagger. Lake Hamilton held on for a 37-35 win in a chippy, physical contest. In that game, it was West again who came up with a big defensive play for the Wolves, a second-half interception.

“I thought we had a good chance against Allen,” Clay said. They were having trouble covering us man-to-man, then they switched to zone and we got a lot of people open.”

Sawrie won the Top Gun award, as the event’s best quarterback. His teammate Eastburn was named the top defensive player, while Matthew McLaughlin earned the award for best receiver.

Pulaski Academy, the three-time defending champion of the event, failed to make the championship bracket, but recovered to win the consolation pool with a 53-20 win over Greenbrier.

For DePriest, it is no coincidence that 7-on-7 is flourishing while the overall level of play has risen in Arkansas high school football.

“It has grown tremendously, and the quality of football in Arkansas has grown,” he said. “I think this is part of it. I think spring football has helped, and coaches have started working their players in the summer. It’s a year-round commitment.”

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