South Florida Express Elite won the IMG Madden 7-on-7 Southeast Regional qualifier at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., with an impressive 25-7 victory over Team Tampa.
But it was a critical rally and last-minute score in a quarter-final game that kept its title hopes alive.
Needing a critical stop - with Jacksonville-based Red Zone leading 23-21 and 45 seconds reamining, SFE Elite came up with the defensive play on third down from the five. Those two points tied the game at 23.SFE Elite quarterback Akeem Jones (Carol City) connected with Dionte Taylor with 19 seconds left, for a 22 yard touchdown - and gave SFE Elite a 30-23 win.
"Big time players make big time plays," Jones said after the semi-final win that put SFE Elite into winner's bracket finals against Tampa (a 24-5 winner over Pro Impact). "I put the team on my back and felt like I had to bring it home"
Red Zone came closer to beating SFE Elite than anyone until the team matched up with Tampa.
Again Jones was nearly flawless in leading his team to a 19-17 win in the winner's bracket final, forcing Tampa to play Central Florida Top Recruits, to advance to the finals.
Beat them they did, as Alvin Bailey gave Tampa a 10-9 lead they would never relinquish with an interception. Pete Dinovo capped the game with a touchdown to Artavis Scott giving Tampa a 16-9 lead - then another interception of Central Florida QB Asiantii Woulard - this time by Jordan Sherit and another Bailey TD put the game away.
In the championship game, Both teams traded touchdowns early and Tampa led 7-6 after Dinovo hooked up with Travis Johnson. SFE came right back, taking a 14-7 lead and adding to it with a defensive start to take a 16-7 lead it would never relinquish.
Jones was named the tournament's MVP after rallying the Elite team to the title. Four teams advanced to the national IMG 7-on-7 Finals in June, also to be held in Bradenton.
Top Recruits nearly advanced through the losers bracket by knocking off Team 239 and Red Zone. Team 239 (from Fort Myers) advances to the IMG Madden 7-on-7 National Field by finishing fourth. Team 239 was led by Kurt Benkert, who transferred from Cape Coral to Island Coast.
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