The black-and-white numbers are out there, not up for much interpretation.

Hosting the Border Battle 7-on-7 Tournament for the second time, Branson High School’s entry went 3-2 in pool play in the 20-minute competitions, then lost to Harrison (Arkansas) in the fifth-place game of the Black Division.

For Pirates coach Anthony Hays, though, the experience was about far more than the raw numbers you can take out of the day.

It was about seeing how some of his young, inexperienced and untested players would react to adversity and to seeing opponents lined up across from them in some game-simulating situations.

“I told them today that I was looking for three things out of this,” Hays said. “Are you understanding our offensive schemes, are you understanding our defensive schemes, and are you a competitor? In this situation, where it’s a 20-minute game, the games are always super-close and super-intense. 

“You get a glimpse of who competes when things are kind of tight. I was really proud of us in situations, but we just have to be more consistent.”

Nearly every game Branson played in on Thursday came down to the end.

In round-robin play, the Pirates held on for a dramatic 14-12 victory over Mountain Home (Arkansas), defeated Rolla (24-13), lost to Alma (16-6) and Mt. Vernon (14-6), then defeated Huntsville (18-2) to advance to the fifth-place game in the championship round.

Branson dropped a 14-8 decision to Harrison in the fifth-place game.

Perhaps the biggest sign of competitiveness came in the opening game of round-robin play, the victory over Mountain Home.

Pierce hit Jay Hill with a 1-yard TD pass, then found Hill again with the 2-point conversion to snap a 6-all tie and give the Pirates a 14-6 lead.

Mountain Home answered with a score to make it 14-12, then drove to the 15-yard line in the final minute of the game.

D’Shawn Craigg broke up two potential game-winning passes into the end zone with nice physical plays with coverage on the final two plays of the game.

It was something Hays enjoyed seeing.

“The scheme stuff, you can get that in practice,” Hays said. “The competition amps up because you keep score and it’s a different-colored jersey. That’s probably the most important thing.”

One of the most-watched position battles for the Pirates this fall figures to be at quarterback, where last year’s starter (Gabe Sylvester) is not returning, leaving Tristian Pierce and Dalton Muenchau to battle for the starting job.

Both made some nice throws and decisions on Thursday while alternating possessions throughout the day. Hays said the job remains wide open for the taking.

“The job is up for grabs and whoever wants it needs to go take it,” Hays said. “In the meantime, we need to develop more than one quarterback. Those guys are both getting better as the summer goes on.

Hays said the goal when settling on starters at each position is to provide as much flexibility as possible, with players seeing action on only one side of the ball, in addition to looking ahead at possible injury fill-ins.

“What it does is, going into the season, it gives you options,” he said. “You always have to have contingency plans, not just at the quarterback position.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen in a 10-game season, so we have to develop quarterbacks.”

Ethan Jones hauled in a pair of scoring passes in the victory over Rolla, Ty Werling caught a pair of 2-point conversion passes and intercepted a pass, and Brady Blackwell turned in one of the top individual plays of the day for Branson.

On the first play of a drive after Rolla took a 13-6 lead, Blackwell ran a nice crossing route, hauled in a pass from Payton McCormick and outran the pursuit for a 35-yard touchdown.

It was part of a strong day overall for Blackwell, who figures to play a big role in the Pirates’ offense this season as a junior.

“We definitely gained some confidence because we made some plays and our offense was running a little bit better than what we were used to,” Blackwell said. “We put it all together, but still have a lot of work to do. 

“It was a good day – we weren’t happy with the outcome, probably should have won a few more games.”

The Pirates’ lone score against Alma came on a TD pass from Pierce to Werling, with a late interception ending any hopes for a comeback.

Pierce hit Dom Darnell for a 17-yard score for Branson’s only score against Mt. Vernon. The Pirates were inside the Mt. Vernon 10-yard line, driving for a potential game-tying score, when time expired.

The game against Huntsville as a mismatch from start to finish. McCormick hit Muenchau for a 27-yard touchdown to open the game, with Werling scoring two points on an interception and Blackwell catching an 11-yard TD from McCormick to seal the victory.

In the fifth-place game against Harrison, McCormick found Jones on a nice post-corner route for a 35-yard touchdown on the second play of a drive, then hit Werling for the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 8.

Harrison answered with a score to take the lead, and the game was effectively lost when Branson turned it over on downs with about 90 seconds remaining. It was a frustrating end to a day that saw some growth from the Pirates.

“We know we are a good football team,” Blackwell said. “We saw today what we need to work on going forward so we can get better.”

The rest of the summer includes work in the weight room, then camp and a state-required dead week with no activities before the start of preseason practice and school.

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