The Mallard Creek Mavericks beat the defending champion Spartanburg Dorman Cavaliers 42-35 Friday to capture the Carolina Panthers 7-on-7 High School Passing Tournament championship at the Panthers’ practice facility.
The Mavericks, who won the tournament in 2011, were led by quarterback L.J. Smith.
The tournament featured 12 teams – six each from North Carolina and South Carolina – that had successful playoff runs last season. The teams competed in a round-robin format with four guaranteed games. The top eight teams moved on to a single-elimination bracket.
The players had an audience, too – Panthers draft picks Kelvin Benjamin, Bene Benwikere and Tyler Gaffney and undrafted free agents Carrington Byndom and Marcus Lucas were in attendance.
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“We actually did 7-on-7s in high school three years in a row,” said Benjamin, the Panthers’ first-round pick. “We went to nationals twice, and I was MVP two times. It was fun. We would just go out there and compete.”
Benwikere, a cornerback, said his favorite part of high school 7-on-7s was covering deep balls.
“I’m looking at these teams, and they are throwing the ball deep,” he said smiling. “That’s what I like to see.”
Mallard Creek opened the tournament with two losses, but after a game-sealing interception by Amari Henderson against Wake Forest High in overtime of the third game, the Mavericks didn’t lose again – despite their seven-seed ranking in elimination play.
“A win like this is awesome,” Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri said. “Especially after losing our first two. It’s great for our kids.”
One of the most impressive performances of the day came from Charlotte Christian’s John Turley, a junior with no experience playing quarterback at the varsity level. A last-minute starter in place of the absent Austin Kendall, Turley threw two 40-yard touchdowns – the full length of the field in 7-on-7 tournaments – among his completions.
“I felt great about him today,” Charlotte Christian coach Jason Estep said. “He is a leader. He comes to play every day. We will be successful with him.”
By winning the tournament, the Mavericks qualify for the NFL’s National High School 7-on-7 Tournament July 13-16 in Indianapolis with all expenses paid for 12 players and two coaches.
“It’s great for those 12 kids,” Palmieri said. “I wish we could take them all, but it’s exciting for them.”
Other area programs that participated in the event included Rock Hill Northwestern, Scotland County and Statesville. Of those three programs, only Statesville advanced to the eight-team elimination bracket, and it lost in the first round to Charlotte Christian.