Day one of the Big County Preps 9 Route 7-on-7 tournament in Fish Hawk went smoothly over the weekend as the Gaither Cowboys notched wins against Anclote, Plant City, Spoto and Middleton before dropping their first game to Lakewood. The Cowboys finished by beating East Bay to wrap their pool play at 5-1.
Their accomplishment on Saturday also brings light to the fact that there are a lot of new faces on the Gaither 7-on-7 team.
Receivers Matt Respess, a junior, and Marcus Brown, a senior, made themselves known Saturday in pool play. Respess was a varsity player for Gaither, and Brown had 12 receptions as a King Lion last year. Both caught touchdown passes to help the Cowboys get past Middleton.
The Cowboys didn't field Demarcus Sexil or state runner-up and 110m hurdler Samson Moore. Graduated receiver Carlo Perello was on hand to watch the Cowboys fine-tune their passing game.
"I'd love to get out there and play right now," said Perello. "But I also like to come out here and support the guys."
On elimination Sunday, the Cowboys came out with guns blazing. They knocked off Spoto 21-0 in a rematch of pool play. Then they slipped past Lakewood 13-12, thanks in great part by a pick-six by senior safety Danny Bonham. Senior Dom Neglio had an interception late in the game to preserve the win.
The Cowboys then beat Boca Ciega, the team that knocked out defending champion Plant, 26-20. Junior corner back Amani Oruwariye scored on a pick-six that put Gaither in front for good.
They hit the East Lake shredding machine in the final, and were swept away, 43-6.
Gaither ran out of gas and couldn't keep up with Eagle receivers Artavis Scott and George Campbell, who gashed defenses all weekend long.
"I'm proud of our guys," said Gaither head football coach Jason Stokes. "We were down by two scores against Lakewood, and we came back and won it."
There were other bright spots for the Cowboys, too. Defensive Coordinator Brian DelValle has four new starters in the defensive secondary. They availed themselves over the weekend.
Bonham, Amani Oruwariye and senior Pat Fankma got burned a few times, but they rallied and made big plays that put their team in positions to win. The brightest of them all was the standout play of Oruwariye.
He was matched up with some of the best receivers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and was able to hold his own. He had an interception in almost all over Gaither's 10 games over the weekend.
Check out photos from the tournament.