TAMPA — Boca Ciega’s surprising run to the final of the Battle of the Bay 7-on-7 tournament Saturday was even more eye-opening considering the Pirates lost their first two games, scoring a combined six points in both.
The turnaround came in the second game when Boca Ciega coach Antez Brinson switched quarterbacks, replacing Saivion Smith with Jaire Balloon.
Balloon shined in leading the Pirates to five straight victories, including an overtime upset of Largo in the first round of pool play.
Smith became Balloon’s favorite target with six touchdown receptions in the tournament. In May, Smith sprained his right ankle, which forced him to miss the spring game against Arcadia. He came back last week, but the ankle was still heavily wrapped Saturday.
“I’m fine playing anywhere,” Smith said. “Cornerback, quarterback, wide receiver — it’s all okay with me. I’ll probably play all those positions at some point during the season.”
Brinson said he has not settled on a starting quarterback. Balloon and Smith could share time at the position.
“I’d say Balloon is probably a step ahead right now, but they can both play at quarterback,” Brinson said. “The thing is, whoever isn’t playing quarterback we know can tear it up as a receiver. So it’s a good situation for us.”
Turning heads: After a slow start, Dixie Hollins made a strong run through Saturday’s tournament with upsets over Jefferson in pool play and Pasco in the first round of seeded competition.
The passing duo of quarterback Tyrie Adams and receiver Marcus Smith made an impact. The two hooked up for two touchdowns against the Dragons and another against the Pirates.
Smith also recorded interceptions against Pasco and Boca Ciega.
Rust proof: The last time Largo quarterback Donavan Hale threw a pass before Saturday was on a fake field goal on the final play of regulation to beat Countryside in a spring game.
Hale spent the last weekend in May playing in a basketball tournament for the Florida Elite 17-under team. This month, he has been in Ohio visiting family.
Hale said he flew home to play in the Battle of the Bay. Despite not practicing, Hale still threw 10 touchdowns in five games.
“I actually played a lot better than I thought I would,” Hale said. “I thought I’d be a lot more rusty out here.”
Next week, Hale is going back to Ohio. On July 10, he’ll play in the Adidas Showcase basketball tournament in Indianapolis, as well as another showcase tournament in Orlando later that month.
“I probably won’t be throwing the football too much until practice starts up again in August,” Hale said.
The Packers finished 1-4 at the tournament but were missing some key starters. Cordell Hudson was out with a stress fracture in his leg and Raheem Harvey was in Bradenton playing for Team Tampa in the national 7-on-7 tournament. Frankie Hernandez was injured in the first game Saturday and sat out the other four.
Valuable experience: Because Countryside graduated nearly every starter at the skill positions, 7-on-7 tournaments have become a necessity to get timing down among quarterbacks and receivers.
Trent Chmelik started at quarterback and threw at least one touchdown in each of the Cougars’ six games.
Countryside coach Jared Davis said his team will play in two other 7-on-7 tournaments in July: the BCP 9 Route and the USF Sling ‘N’ Shoot.
“We’re young, so we need to play together as much as we can,” Davis said. “Every tournament we can get into helps.”
Audible: “We didn't play a weak team in this tournament...so you had to bring your 'A' game every single game. So I told 'em let's not sit around and wait for the lesser opponent to appear because it's not going to appear. If you're going to be that dude, be that dude against the best.” — Boca Ciega coach Antez Brinson, whose team rallied for five consecutive victories Saturday after losing its first two.