LITHIA - Gaither High quarterback Alex McGough was there last year for the beating in the championship game - 43-6 to East Lake - and it didn't sit well with him.
"We came in and got embarrassed," McGough said. "We were not going to let that happen again."
McGough and the Cowboys stayed true to their mission, winning Sunday's Bright House Sports Network 9 Route 7-on-7 tournament with a 33-27 victory over Lakewood.
McGough, who has committed to Florida International University, completed his first pass of Sunday's championship game for 40 yards and threw a touchdown pass on his second throw. Lakewood answered with a touchdown in two passes and went on to take a 14-7 lead, but Gaither never backed off.
"We knew we could do it this year," Gaither coach Jason Stokes said. "We believed."
With 7 seconds remaining in the first half, McGough connected on his third touchdown pass. Following a successful two-point conversion, the Cowboys ran into halftime tied at 21.
Then, with just a couple of minutes left in the game, Malik Huff hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the tournament winner, ending a weekend that involved almost 200 games among 30 teams.
"It's a long, long weekend, and nobody gave us anything," Stokes said. "We earned everything, and that's something to be proud of."
Gaither finished the tournament 8-1-1 with encouraging victories over Alonso (27-7 in a semifinal) and Freedom (13-12 in a quarterfinal).
"Every time we needed somebody to step up, they did," said McGough, who was named the tournament's most valuable player. "Our defense came through again and again to give us a chance."
Gaither pulled off the victory despite several of its top players being absent from the tournament, a fact that Stokes believes speaks to a stronger team mentality at Gaither.
"We talk about it all the time - the next man up mentality," Stokes said. "We make no excuses. Everybody is expected to step up when they are needed and everybody did that this weekend."
McGough said he is extremely encouraged with his team, which went 9-3 in 2012 and won a district title.
"But I feel we're stronger because we've consistently hit the weight room and we all know what we need to do," McGough said. "We had a good year (in 2012) but I think we can do even more (in 2013)."