The 62nd annual AHSAA North-South All-Star Game at Hancock Whitney Stadium Friday night involved two different-looking halves – and one final big defensive play to seal the South’ 21-20 win.
Among those competing for the North team were Fyffe state champion linemen Levi Carroll and Caleb Lyles.
Lyles was chosen as a team captain prior to kickoff and finished with five tackles, including one for a 2-yard loss. Carroll finished with one tackle and helped block on a 2-yard touchdown run that capped a long third-quarter scoring drive for the North.
The South used a precision passing attack to build a 21-7 lead by halftime, but the North turned to power football and a crushing running game featuring Tuscaloosa County running back Damien Taylor to take control in the second half to pull within one point at 21-20 with 2:20 left in the final quarter. However, a 2-point try came up short when Carver-Montgomery linebacker Joshua Young led a host of South defenders in stopping Taylor short of the end zone.
The North defense got the ball back near midfield with 31 seconds remaining and Lanett’s Kadarius Zackery picked off a pass from quarterback Zyquez Perryman of Pleasant Grove and raced 54 yards for the game-sealing final TD as the South pulled out its second win in a row in the series, which was first played in 1948. The South win extends the South’s lead in the series to 32-27-2.
The game was played at Mobile for the first time in the series. It is set to return in 2021 and 2022. The City of Mobile, Mobile County, the Mobile Sports Authority and the University of South Alabama helped coordinate the game.
Young was in on nine tackles and had a key interception to earn MVP honors for the South, which was coached by McGill-Toolen Catholic Coach Earnest Hill. Tuscaloosa County’s Taylor finished with a North-South record 180 yards on 20 carries and scored all three North TDs to earn MVP honors.
The South’s special team play helped flip the field position in the first quarter – and gave the winners the momentum as quarterbacks Karson Green and took a quick 14-0 lead as the result.
A high snap on a North punt forced Pelham punter Salvador Lopez to tuck and run and the South had the ball inside the North 30. The North defense held, however, but the South, led by strong pressure up front by Young and Central-Hayneville defensive lineman Quinderrious Rush, forced the North to punt again out of its end zone and this time the kick sailed to the 30 and out of bounds.
Hill inserted his own quarterback Spencer Arceneaux, and the Yellow Jackets’ big-play QB completed a 12-yard TD pass to Montgomery Catholic receiver Myles Butler for the first South TD with 1:47 left in the first quarter. The North was intercepted on its first play following the kickoff by Young at the North 23-yard line and quarterback Karson Green of Saraland took over at quarterback and passed 23 yards to receiver Javonte Graves-Billups of St. Paul’s Episcopal on first down for a touchdown – coming just 26 seconds after the South’s first TD – and place-kicker Forrest Taylor of Foley booted his second extra point to give the South a 14-0 lead at 1:21 in the opening period.
Things changed quickly midway into the second quarter when North defensive back Walker Lyles of Pelham intercepted a Green pass at the North 3-yard line. North head coach Jeff Smith of Walter Wellborn inserted safety Jett Smith, his son, at quarterback, who bulled for a first down to the 15. On the next play, Troy University signee Taylor broke off a big block by Ohatchee lineman Gregory King and sped 85 yards for the first North TD. Lopez kicked the extra point, and the South lead was cut to 14-7.
The South stormed back with Arceneaux connecting with Blount’s Melvin Williams for a 27-yard TD connection on their squad’s next possession to cap a 56-yard, nine-play drive with the pass into down the right sideline to the end zone and the South led 21-7 at the half.
The South dominated the first half offensively with 252 total yards, 191 passing, and had 36 total plays. The North had 129 total yards but 85 came on Taylor’s sensational TD run. The more telling stat came in the first-down category where the South held a 12-5 edge at intermission.
The North came out smoking to open the third quarter. With Smith in at quarterback, the North used 15 running plays to drive 65 yards with Taylor getting the last two yards for the TD thanks to a big block by Fyffe’s Carroll and Piedmont’s Sean Smith with 4:45 left in the period. The march used 7:15 of the third period clock to boot.
The strategy set the South on its heels as the North kept the ball for 9:19 of the 12 minutes in the quarter – which limited the South to just 12 total yards – after rolling up 252 yards in the first two quarters.
The South got its offense in gear again to start the fourth quarter with Green at the helm, but his pass near the goal line was deflected and North linebacker Landen Berguson intercepted for the North to give his team the ball for the first time in the final period with just over 7 minutes to play.
The North then marched 86 yards on 11 plays with Taylor scoring from the 3-yard line thanks to the blocking of Ohatchee lineman Gregory King and Northside tackle Joe Malone with 2:20 left to trim the margin to 21-20. The South defense rose up on the run for two by Taylor and Zackery stepped for his pick-six to lock the victory for the South.
The South finished with 15 first downs and 320 total yards on 54 snaps. The North had 294 total yards on 59 plays – albeit 46 rushing plays.
South quarterback Green was 11-of-17 passing for 133 yards and one TD with two interceptions. Arceneaux was 7-of-8 for 88 yards and two scores as the South finished with 221 yards passing. Lee’s Davis led the South runners with 59 yards on nine carries. Graves-Billups had five catches for 50 yards and a TD. Butler had five catches for 39 yards and a score, and Williams caught three passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.
Taylor averaged 9.0 yards per carry with 180 yards on 20 rushing attempts. Wellborn’s Smith added 34 yards on seven carries. Perryman was 5-of-13 passing for 44 yards with Jack Harris of Guntersville notching two receptions for 19 yards.
Young led the South defense with nine tackles. Rush added seven stops with one sack and 2.5 stops resulting in 16 yards lost. Trinity Presbyterian’s Walton Cherry also had seven tackles while Zackery had five stops and his 54-yard pick six.
The North defense was led by Walter Wellborn’s Smith, who played both ways much of the night. He had 7 tackles along with Landon Berguson of Hewitt-Trussville and Tyrell Mayberry of Gordo. Berguson also had an interception he returned for 18 yards.