In the end, Kell and Hillgrove advanced to the championship round, but it was Langston Hughes which took home the title with a 24-9 victory over Charles Drew.
Kell earned the No. 2 overall seed after going 5-1 in Pool A and received a bye into the semifinals. The Longhorns scored 137 points in wins over South Paulding, Wesleyan, McEachern, Parkview and Columbus, but they lost to Archer’s “A” team in pool play.
Archer, which also finished 5-1 in the pool, scored 134 points to advance to the championship rounds as the No. 4 seed overall.
Tournament host McEachern finished 4-2 in the same pool, while Harrison was 2-4 in Pool B. Wheeler and Kennesaw Mountain also competed Wednesday.
“If you would have told me we’d be the No. 2 seed after pool play before all of this started, I would have been thrilled,” Kell coach Derek Cook said. “It’s tough to put into words what we saw from our guys in pool play. We’re playing some inexperienced guys, and seniors who haven’t played a lot of reps. We have a lot of new starters, and in these situations, you can get exposed.”
Getting exposed, unfortunately, is what happened to Kell.
Drew, which went 5-1 and scored 136 points to get the No. 3 overall seed, finished as the runner-up in Pool C behind Villa Rica, which also went 5-1 and scored 161 points to claim the top seed and a first-round bye.
Hillgrove, which was the runner-up in Pool B with a 4-2 record, claimed the No. 6 seed after totaling 93 points. However, the Hawks, who beat Griffin, Shiloh, West Forsyth and Archer’s “B” team, and lost to Hughes and McIntosh, left prior to the championship round and forfeited their spot to Griffin.
“I didn’t know we made it to the championship bracket,” Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside said. “We got three different pieces of information, so I told my guys to go home. They were tired, but still got their work in with those six games, so we were good.
Despite not playing in the finals, Ironside was pleased with what he saw from his team and his two new quarterbacks, junior Matt Wilson and sophomore Bryson Parks.
“Overall, I thought we did well and got better as the day went on, with our quarterbacks making better decisions. Our defensive coaches thought their kids did what they needed to do as well.”
Though Griffin stepped in for Hillgrove, Drew came out on top with a 30-14 first-round victory and advanced to play Kell in the semifinals, where it won 21-13.
Drew took a 6-0 lead on it first drive, but Kell quarterback Cameron Rosendahl responded with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Bryson Armstrong, and Derrick White’s conversion put the Longhorns ahead 7-6.
Ivan Walls’ fourth-down interception extended Kell’s lead to 10-6, but Rosendahl threw the first of three interceptions on the Longhorns’ next drive, and Kell’s lead was cut to 10-9.
Drew scored another touchdown on its next possession, but failed on the conversion, leaving it with a 15-10 advantage.
Rosendahl was intercepted in the end zone on fourth down to increase Drew’s lead to 18-10, but Quientin Sanders’ pick helped the Longhorns pull within 18-13.
Several dropped passes led to Kell turning the ball over on downs, but the Longhorns’ defense returned the favor, giving Kell one last shot to win.
Rosendahl, however, threw his third interception in the final minute of play, and time ran out on the Longhorns.
“It’s uncharacteristic for Cameron to throw three picks in a day, much less one game,” Cook said. “He’s hard on himself about that stuff, but we’ll get it corrected.
“We got exposed with a lot of dropped passes, and defense not being in the right situations. It’s better to have those errors now rather than later. I’m happy we made it to the final four, but we had a lot of missed opportunities and it didn’t work out for us. We’ll get better as a team.”
Meanwhile Hughes, which went 5-1 and scored 131 points to nab the No. 5 overall seed and runner-up spot from Pool B defeated Archer ‘A’ 23-12 in the first round of the championship bracket and bested Villa Rica 20-10 in the semifinals before claiming the title over Drew.