None of the Tampa Bay teams won this weekend, but they all performed well. Unsigned Preps and Team Tampa Too did a great job fighting back from the loser's bracket after dropping their first game, and Team Tampa made the final four (and will be competing at the national championships this summer).
Let me say this as well -- the two games Sunday between defending champion Team Tampa and first-year Unsigned Preps were both great. The advantage one team has over the other is razor thin, and if they played 10 times, I could see a 5-5 or 6-4 split, and nothing more. It's that close.
I'm sure the debate will rage on Twitter for a bit, but anyone saying the other put it on the other is just not telling the truth. Both games came down to one play, and the last game came down to one play twice, in regulation and in overtime.
Both teams deserve a lot of credit, as much for keeping their heads as their play. It may be a young rivalry, but the teams handled both games with class. It wasn't but a year ago that Miami was running the 7-on-7 circuit, and while they ended up winning regionals, it's clear after the performance of the three Tampa Bay teams a new sheriff is looking to set up shop.
Anyway, I was shooting video and taking pictures, but I managed to take a few notes, too.
Chase Litton, Wharton, QB: Hung on to the ball a little long on a few instances, but showed precision with his short passes. Everyone knows he has a cannon for an arm and can make the deep throws, but was able to make a lot of key completions underneath and displayed a cool demeanor all day.
Joc Ellison, Lakewood, WR: Mr. Clutch for Team Tampa. Ellison expertly found empty space all day for key catches. Caught the winning TD and extra point to beat Unsigned Preps in the loser-goes-home battle that kept Unsigned Preps from qualifying for nationals, and had a touchdown and conversion earlier in that game too. If his team needed a short first down, a touchdown in tight space or a reception to keep the clock running, he was the guy. He's going to be a much bigger playmaker in the fall, but at IMG, every time the defense yelled "third down we need just one more stop" you kinda knew he'd be catching the next ball. Kind of amazing how many darn times he came up when I was editing video.
Devin Abraham, East Lake, DB: Made a key interception and didn't see him get beat too often, if ever, Sunday. Also made a nice play knocking ball out of Malik Johns' breadbasket in the endzone, preventing a key extra point. Quiet, consistent, steady.
Kyle Gibson, Armwood, S: He's a big-time cruncher in pads, but he showed some big-time cover skills too.
Keith Harrington, Northeast, RB: He was like a poor man's Ellison, doing his damage from out of the backfield. Great hands, shifty and fast, turned in a number of key plays.
Keon Brown, East Lake, DB: Okay, checked the video, so I'm fixing this one. Brown broke up a key pass in the corner of the end zone, and then on the next play nearly picked off a pass over the middle. The ball was a little behind Brown and went through his hands, but he made a great play on it and the key point -- he got his hands on it, or Deon Cain catches it for a touchdown.
Artavis Scott, East Lake, WR: He had his struggles in the middle of the day against Orlando's Top Recruits, with more than one person saying "You never see him drop that." But he caught a touchdown in the game, and was a beast in the final two games, demanding the ball. Against eventual champion SFE Elite, he basically dared the whole sideline to stop him. And they couldn't. Also showed out on defense.
Ryan Davis, Northeast, WR: Hoping to prove he can catch and run as well as he throws, he did just that. Had a couple of really nice short catches he turned into longer ones, especially a little ankle breaker against SFE Elite in his final game of the day.
Amani Oruwariye, Gaither, DB: One of the most active defensive backs in the whole tournament, No. 24 was everywhere. Two big breakups at end of game on deep balls sealed Unsigned Preps fate, and he did that all day. Had an interception against then-unbeaten Orlando Top Prospects as well.
Chris Jackson, Northeast, DB: Couple of nice breakups during the day, and a big interception in the first game against Unsigned Preps. In the second on, he broke up a extra-point pass, which turned out to be a big play, and nearly had another interception (which count for three points) in the endzone.
Deiondre Porter, Jefferson, QB: Porter probably improved his recruiting stock. He was solid all day, and showed great touch on his long ball. Wasn't as consistent with the shorter passes, especially near the goalline, as a few key UPreps drives stalled. But he made some really nice throws.
Deon Cain, Tampa Bay Tech, WR: He played QB for the Titans, but he showed he also might be one of Tampa Bay's best wide receivers, too. Really impressive, and caught his share of touchdowns. Caught the first TD in the second game against Team Tampa Sunday.
Nate Craig, Pasco, WR: Came up big in wins over Miami teams, but I didn't think Unsigned Preps didn't take advantage of him near the goal line, or they might be going to nationals. He's a stud, plain and simple, and like Team Tampa does with Scott, when his team needs a score most, you have to look his way. Have to. Craig missed the first game of the day with a sore hamstring, but decided to play afterwards and showed no ill effects.
Tajee Fullwood, Tampa Bay Tech, WR: Not sure too many people had a more productive day than Fullwood, who beat Team Tampa for touchdowns on the first two plays of the day. His stock will get a significant boost from this weekend's performance, and some of the recruiting analysts were asking a lot of questions about him.
Malik Johns, Pasco, WR: A cross between Harrington and Ellison, Johns is a burner and a clutch receiver and has big-play ability. He made the best diving catch I saw, until he also made a tremendous leaping catch in traffic that might have been the best too. Didn't see him drop anything all day.
Ray Ray McCloud III, Sickles, DB: McCloud is just as good in pass coverage as he is with the ball in his hand as a running back. Had some picks, and some big pass breaks. Broke up a touchdown with seconds left to keep Unsigned Preps alive in their first game against Team Tampa Sunday, and his tipped pass (right to T.J. Harrell, who came down with the interception, sealed their first win of the day. One of the best defenders out there.
Cordell Hudson, Largo, DB: Played very well, and came up with a game-clinching interception, too. Didn't see many passes thrown his way when any of the games were on the line, so there's that. Made a spectacular diving pass breakup in finale, and then picked off a third down pass in the end zone.
Team Tampa Too (I only saw one of their games, and a little of one other, FYI)
Tyrae Boykins, Lakewood, WR: Whoever ends up being the quarterback for the Spartans this fall, they should have fun throwing to Ellison and Boykins a sure-handed receiver who turned a few short gains into bigger ones and had a good weekend.
Brad Mayes, Berkeley Prep, QB: Showed up late from baseball Saturday, but managed to lead the Too to some victories, and that carried over to Sunday with some good performances.
Dwayne Lawson, Hillsborough, QB: He's gonna be sooooo good. Great frame and arm, still just scraping surface of potential.
Albert Laskett, Lakewood, DB: Had a big interception and played well. Extremeley athletic kid looked better with each passing game.
Team Tampa-Unsigned Preps II
Team Tampa-Unsigned Preps III
Team Tampa - Orlando Top Recruits (overtime)
Lakewood's Joc Ellison makes all kinds of catches