But the Hawks will have to settle for the No. 2 seed when the double-elimination bracket play begins today.
Alabama’s Hoover High School, the host of next week’s national championship, won the No. 1 seed based on fewest points allowed. Hoover, however, was nearly ejected from the tournament due to an on-field altercation with Flowery Branch.
North Cobb and defending champion Lassiter are the fourth and fifth seeds behind No. 3 Lovejoy. Cherokee is seeded No. 6, and Kell is the No. 8 seed behind No. 7 Shaw. The top eight seeds have opening-round byes.
Hoover’s tournament status was uncertain for a few moments when a fight broke out between the Bucs and Flowery Branch with 2:02 left to play in their game, with both teams clearing the benches.
According to tournament rules, teams can be ejected for leaving the bench, and Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin confessed to tournament organizers that his players sparked the altercation, and that Hoover shouldn’t take the fall. After further discussion, it was decided that Hoover would stay and Flowery Branch was ejected from the tournament.
The game was called with Hoover winning 32-12.
“The Flowery Branch coach took blame for the altercation,” said Lassiter coach Jep Irwin, the tournament director. “The tournament staff met and determined who should stay on the field. It was unfortunate, but the Flowery Branch coach did the right thing.”
Hoover will either play Columbia or Centennial in the second round.
Hillgrove was spared the extra in during pool play, but it did have its challenges. The Hawks beat Florence (Ala.) 21-14 by forcing a late turnover with an interception by Georgia Tech-bound cornerback Tolando Cleveland, followed by a touchdown catch by Mississippi-committed tight end Evan Engram.
The Hawks used a late run to break open a close game against Kell before winning 31-18. They held on to a slim 16-12 lead with roughly 5 minutes to play before Engram picked off a pass, followed by a touchdown pass by quarterback Troy Thompson, who started in three of Hillgrove’s five games.
“We’re usually 3-2 or 2-3 by this time, so this run was pretty good for us,” Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside said. “It was good to see the young kids play and make plays.”
Hillgrove will start bracket play against the winner of the Northview-Westminster game.
Kell ended the day with a 4-1 record, good enough for the No. 8 seed, but the Longhorns didn’t quite play to coach Derek Cook’s expectations. He was concerned with dropped balls and poor throws.
“I don’t think we came out as sharp as we did in other tournaments,” Cook said. “Perhaps (today) we will wake up and wake up twice and come to play.”
The Longhorns may need to. They will face Florence in the second round after the Alabama team got a first-round pass due to Flowery Branch’s ejection. Kell survived a 17-16 decision over Florence in pool play, thanks to a clutch touchdown grab by Brandon Langley late in the contest.
And if the Longhorns defeat Florence a second time, Hoover may await them in the next round.
Lassiter’s JV squad ended up participating Saturday when Sydney Lanier, another Alabama school, failed to show up early in the morning. After Shaw took a forfeit win in its time slot with Sydney Lanier early Friday, the Lassiter JV entered the tournament for the final four games.
The younger Trojans finished the day 1-3 record, winning their final game 30-11 over Eastside (S.C.).
The Lassiter JV will face Walton in its first-round game, with North Cobb awaiting the winner.