DALLAS, Texas -- Playing very much like a team with something to prove, John Tyler (Tyler, Texas) finished off an unbeaten two-day run to capture the championship of the third annual Red Bull Game Breakers 7-on-7 National Finals.
The Lions held off relentless Cypress-Fairbanks (Cypress, Texas) 35-29 in a tense title game that wasn't decided until the final play Friday night at Dallas Jesuit Prep's Haggar Stadium.
The celebration for the East Texas school best known for producing football great Earl Campbell couldn't begin until an end zone breakup of a desperation pass by Cy-Fair quarterback Logan Taylor on the final play.
With quarterback Greg Ward, a University of Houston commit, targeting receivers Fred Ross to his right and Justice Liggins to his left, Tyler opened a 35-26 lead and was driving for another score in the final minute. A team with less resilience than Cy-Fair might have thrown in the towel.
But linebacker Brady Wright renewed Cy-Fair's hope with an interception of a Ward pass --a three-point play -- to reduce the gap to six points as the clock wound under a half-minute. Time for two plays.
On first down, receiver Jacorey Aleen got behind the Lions defense, but Taylor's pass for the potential touchdown equalizer was inches beyond the receiver's reach.
"Everybody was running streaks and Jacorey got some separation, but my pass was just off his fingertips,'' said Taylor.
At that moment on the Tyler sideline, Ward said he was thinking he let his team down with his interception.
"My defense had my back, though, and they pulled through,'' Ward said.
Tyler defenders were well positioned to break up Taylor's final throw.
An interception by Lions linebacker Richard Gipson on Cy-Fair's opening series helped spark Tyler to a 9-0 start. Cy-Fair rallied to within 18-17 at halftime on touchdown catches by Dillon Birden and Kidus Walle.
On the first play of the second half Ross set up a score by using his 6-1, 195-pound frame to haul in a throw from Ward. Ross and Liggins caught a pair of touchdowns each in the title game.
Cy-Fair tied the score, 25-25, on a determined fourth-down catch in the right corner of the end zone by Aleen with a little over six minutes remaining. But Cy-Fair failed on its conversion try. It went 0-for-3 on conversion passes for the game.
"That's a big part of our game and it hurt us not getting those points,'' said Taylor.
Tyler was spurred throughout the tournament with the memory of an uninspired 1-2 showing in the Game Breakers Fort Worth Qualifier on June 26. Arlington handed Tyler one of its losses that day. As fate would have it, Arlington was Tyler's first Final Four opponent on Friday. The Lions led by only a point and halftime, but pulled away for a 36-14 victory to move into the championship game.
"We felt like we had something to prove because we didn't play very well in the Red Bull qualifying tournament,'' said Ross, an Oklahoma State commit. "We were tired that day from playing in two straight tournaments and we never had our heads in it.''
Darion Flowers spurred the Lions' big second half against Arlington with two touchdown receptions.
Michael Gray led the Arlington receiving corps with a half-dozen catches, including a touchdown.
"We can play much better,'' said Gray. "Our worst game on Thursday was better than the one we played today. You play your heart out on the first day and getting out of bed today my whole body hurt. I still believe we were the best team in the tournament when we played our game.''
In Friday's first semifinal, Cy-Fair raced to a 21-2 halftime lead and went on to eliminate Georgetown (Georgetown, Texas) 31-12.
"Getting a quick start is so important in these games and we didn't do that,'' said Georgetown quarterback Jake Hubenak.
Georgetown receiver Ryan Bedford said a possible game-changing call went against him in the first half. The receiver said he is sure he caught a pass that was batted around in the end zone before being called incomplete.
"I had my hands on it, they knocked it out and I grabbed the ball to my chest as I was going to the ground,'' Bedford said. "But overall, we came a long way in this tournament and I'm proud of these guys.''
Georgetown played a tournament-high seven games on Thursday.
Tyler players, savoring the moment, were the last to leave the stadium.
"The atmosphere tonight was really good,'' said Liggins. "To be No. 1, I still can't believe it.''