Southeast claims Gridiron Kings crown

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A quick wink and a subtle head nod was all the communication that Jeffrey Godfrey provided.

His tacit gestures caught the eye of Ivan McCartney on the final play of the game. McCartney of Miramar High in Hollywood, Fla., caught the winning touchdown to give the Southeast squad a 12-6 victory over the West on Saturday.

"It doesn't take much to communicate with the receivers," said Godfrey, a rising senior quarterback from Miami Central.

"Jeffrey is accurate; I knew he'd get me the ball," McCartney said.

The Southeast's victory capped the inaugural Champion Gridiron Kings event, a 7-on-7 tournament, featuring 64 of the nation's top skill position players Saturday at the Hess Fields on Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

The 7-on-7 event, which is part of the ESPN RISE Games presented by Target, opened with four teams in pool play Saturday morning before deciding the teams for the consolation and title games.

The Southeast embarked on the winning drive with 5:30 left. Instead of going long, the Southeast "dinked and dunked; we didn't need to get it all at once," stressed Godfrey, who is still undecided on college after 14 offers.

McCartney's precise, quick slant route produced the winning touchdown.

The Southeast took a 6-0 lead on their first possession when Storm Johnson of Loganville (Ga.) caught a 1-yard pass from Godfrey.

West forged a 6-6 tie by halftime as wide receiver Anthony Jefferson of Cathedral (San Diego) hauled in Arizona State-bound quarterback Peter Thomas' 14-yard aerial.

Lamar Thomas, the Southeast coach and former NFL wide receiver, said his squad's pride prevailed.

"I told these guys, 'We're from the South and we play the best football in the country,''' said Thomas, the offensive coordinator at Boynton Beach (Fla.). "No way were we going to let players from the West push us around on our home turf.

"Jeffrey [Godfrey] and Ivan [McCartney] are special players. I've had my eye on Ivan since I saw him at a clinic. He's really good and runs great routes," he added.

Consolation game

Midwest 20, Southwest 14: Think Ohio State is thrilled Taylor Graham pledged his signature to a national letter of intent? Following a solid performance in the consolation game of the Gridiron Kings competition Saturday afternoon, that verbal commitment from last month (June 23) is looking golden.

Graham (6-foot-4, 210 pounds), a rising senior quarterback from Wheaton (Ill.) North, threw for three TDs, including a 35-yard catch-and-run by Penn State-bound running back Silas Redd Jr. of King Low Heywood Thomas School (Stamford, Conn.) early in the second half for a 20-8 lead.

During pool play earlier in the day, the Midwest lost to the Southwest 30-8. The beating didn't sit well with Graham.

"They were changing coverage all day," Graham said. "The one thing I learned is to trust your receivers. These [are] some of the best wide receivers in the country; they have great hands and are fast. They run great routes and that's what really mattered today."

Darius White of Dunbar (Fort Worth, Texas) scored a meaningless TD with 15 seconds left to close out the scoring.

The Midwest took an 8-0 lead early in the first half when Graham found Michigan-bound Austin White of Stevenson (Livonia, Mich.) and Alex Smith of Lakota West (West Chester, Ohio) for the two-point conversion.

Justin McCay of Bishop Miege (Shawnee Mission, Kan.) evened the score at 8 when he hooked up with quarterback Munchie Legaux of Karr (New Orleans) for a touchdown and two-point conversion.

Graham staked the Midwest to a 14-8 halftime lead late in the half when he passed 20 yards to Adrian Coxson of City College (Baltimore), who slipped past two defenders along the far sidelines.

"We developed good chemistry over the last two days," Graham said of his on-field relationship with Coxson, a Penn State recruit.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, for which he ran the Gatorade national Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.