Unsigned Preps’ all-star 7-on-7 team staged an unlikely rally behind Alonso’s Chris Oladokun and Sickles’ Ray Ray McCloud III to reach the semifinals of the IMG 7v7 Southeast Regional on Sunday, clinching a second straight national championship appearance.
But a timing snafu kept Unsigned Preps from bigger things.
In its semifinal against eventual runnerup River City, Unsigned Preps took an 18-9 lead on a leaping touchdown grab by Tampa Bay Tech’s Deon Cain (and conversion catch by Tampa Catholic’s Nate Craig) with just over a minute remaining. After a River City touchdown and two-point pass made it 18-17, Unsigned Preps only had to burn 14 seconds in three plays.
But on first down, Oladokun threw a pass that was caught behind the line of scrimmage. According to 7-on-7 rules, if a ball is not passed forward, it is a loss of down and the clock does not advance.
Faced with needing a first down to run the clock out, Unsigned Preps failed to convert its next two passes. There are no fourth downs in 7-on-7, so River City was awarded two points for a defensive stop, giving it a 19-18 win. Pro Impact, led by LSU-commitment Kevin Tolliver, beat River City in the final 23-14.
Unsigned Preps advanced the farthest of the four area teams competing in Bradenton. The top four finishers all earned berths in the June nationals, and Team Tampa — as the defending national champ — moves on as well. Because the first day was rained out, the tournament was played in one day, with four pool games in the morning and single-elimination bracket play in the afternoon.
Team Tampa, which has never won the regional but has captured the past two national titles, was 4-0 in pool play behind Hillsborough quarterback Dwayne Lawson and a stingy defense led by Armwood’s Aaron Covington, Zephyrhills’ Jaylen Pickett and Haines City and FSU-commitment Derwin James.
But in the first round of the single-elimination bracket play, Team Tampa was knocked out 29-0 by South Florida Express Elite in a rematch of last year’s national championship game.
Team Tampa Too, led by Armwood quarterback Noah Johnson, was 2-2 in pool play but lost in the first round 26-11.
The Next Level Night Hawks started the day 2-0 behind a strong defense and Plant City’s T.J. Chase, but lost its final three games, including the first single-elimination game 21-11.
Unsigned Preps started 0-3 in the tournament, but beat SFE Elite in its final game, then rallied from an 18-2 deficit in single elimination to beat Perfect Performance Orange 25-18 in overtime. Unsigned Preps won its next game 24-16, then rallied from a 9-0 deficit to score 18 straight against River City.
But Unsigned Preps failed to make plays at the end of games all weekend. Three of its four losses came on the last play of the game.
Here's an all-tournament team we compiled, including only players from the Tampa Bay teams that we saw.
MVP: Ray Ray McCloud III, Sickles, Unsigned Preps. The Gryphon may have been the best receiver there, and no one had a player quite like him, able to take a short pass and juke it into a 10-yard gain. McCloud made a number of spectacular plays, and might have the best hands of any running back we've seen.
QB: Chris Oladokun, Alonso, Unsigned Preps. Once he took over after his team’s 0-2 start, things started to click for Unsigned Preps. It took a while for the sophomore to get going, but once he did he was quite good. His performance in the first single-elimination game, rallying his team from an 18-2 deficit, was magnificent, and he continued to play well right through the final loss. For a guy playing his first big regional 7-on-7 event, Oladokun showed why his future seems so bright.
QB: Dwayne Lawson, Hillsborough, Team Tampa. Lawson was solid, though Team Tampa didn't air it out much and played a much more conservative offensive game.
WR: Deon Cain, Tampa Bay Tech, Unsigned Preps. Cain drew a lot of attention from defenses, and there were times when he went up for passes against two or more defenders. But he continues to show why he deserves to be considered one of the best wide receiver prospects in the country.
WR: Nate Craig, Tampa Catholic, Unsigned Preps: Craig is still a handful and was especially effective inside the 10-yard line. He was Oladokun’s go-to guy for touchdowns near the goal line and conversion passes.
WR: Auden Tate, Wharton, Team Tampa. Big target made some big catches for Team Tampa, and was a top target of Lawson.
LB: Jordan Griffin, Armwood, Team Tampa. The athletic middle linebacker had two interceptions and did a nice job protecting the short middle of the field.
DB: Jaylen Pickett, Zephyrhills, Team Tampa. Every time we looked up, Pickett was making plays. Coaches spoke highly of him, and he may be a find for Team Tampa.
DB: Nate Ferguson, Gaither, Unsigned Preps. He's a gambler and may get exposed on occasion, but he has tremendous ball skills and when the game is on the line, he wants the ball thrown his way.
DB: Tyrell Hubbard-Smith, Lakewood, Unsigned Preps. Hubbard-Smith had a great interception early in the day, and I thought the way he went at some Miami players in his team's first win sparked a little life into what had been a listless squad. He and Ferguson were a big part of the reason Unsigned Preps forced so many five-second sacks. Not sure I recall a team doing that more often.
DB: Aaron Covington, Armwood, Team Tampa. Every time we see him in 7-on-7, he's doing something. Actually, every time we see him period he's making plays, padded or unpadded.
ATH: T.J. Chase, Plant City, Night Hawks. I only saw him once, but he was the go-to guy for the Next Level team, and along with Plant City quarterback Austin Carswell should be a top combo this offseason.
ATH: George Campbell, East Lake, Team Tampa. Made a few fabulous catches, but also impressive when they put him back on defense with Derwin James at safety. That was a nasty combination in pool play, which is why they didn't allow many points.
Others that had moments:
Damian King, Indian Rocks Christian, Unsigned Preps: He really came on in the first-round game when his team trailed 18-2, and along with Oladokun may be the most responsible for keeping Unsigned Preps alive. Very nice job.
Jacob Mathis, Berkeley Prep, Team Tampa: He was a beast on the goal line, showing off a set of soft hands.
Quentin Williams, Durant, Night Hawks: The Night Hawk coaches said he was the top performer on defense for the young squad.
Christian Angulo, East Bay, Team Tampa Too: Usually a corner, he played safety and just missed on a few interceptions, but was always there.
Bentlee Sanders, Tampa Catholic, Unsigned Preps: Made a few great catches, but like McCloud, is superb at turning a short pass into a big gain with his speed and elusiveness.
Andrew Fakolade, King, Unsigned Preps: Big linebacker-type (6-3, 225 or so) that you would think shouldn't be bothering with 7-on-7, but moves well and has good instincts. He had at least one interception.
Roosevelt Lawrence, Alonso, Team Tampa: Saw lots of action and played an integral role for one of the best defenses out there. Clearly has very good cover skills.
Sayff Saed, Freedom, Team Tampa Too: Made a nice tip-toe catch in one game, and a diving touchdown grab as well. Very good reliable hands.
Kenyatta Anderson, Boca Ciega, Unsigned Preps: We've been singing his praises since Battle of the Bay, and he always performs well. Very physical and fast, able to make up ground and strong enough to knock balls from the hands of receivers.