By Marty Pallman
Twitter – @mpallman
OCALA — The old adage in football is that defense wins championships. Apparently defense can win All-Star games as well.
The North defense forced four turnovers and allowed only 27 yards in the second half as they rallied for a 34-18 win over the South in the North Central Florida All-Star Classic presented by Legacy Team Sports.
The game was held for the third year in a row at Dunlap Field on the campus of Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala.
This game was definitely a tale of two halves.
The South team, led by Vanguard (Ocala) head coach Edwin Farmer, dominated the first quarter statistically, outgaining the North 143-3 in total yards and earning six first downs to the North All-Stars none. But the North still led 7-6 after the opening period.
Running back Kimo Clarke of Vanguard scored the first touchdown of the game for the South, scoring on a 32 yard run to pay dirt. The extra point was never attempted by kicker Nixon Mejia of Lake Weir (Ocala) after a bad snap, keeping the South lead at 6-0.
But the North answered on the ensuing kickoff, as Jaylin Session of Palatka took the kick back 95 yards to the house and despite having no first downs the North team led 7-6. The kick return for the a TD was the first in the three-year history of the game.
The South offense got going again early in the second quarter as Clarke ran in his second TD of the first half, this time from five yards out. King Redd of Trinity Catholic set up the Clarke TD with a 49-yard completion to Bryce Ramirez of West Port (Ocala).
The South went for two points this time and missed again to keep their lead at 12-7 over the North.
But again in a see-saw first half, the North came right back to take the lead. Xavier Fleming of Lafayette (Mayo) recovered a Clarke fumble near midfield, and the North turned it into seven more points on a five-yard TD run by Jeremiah Vaughn of Bradford (Starke) and the lead was now 14-12.
It looked like the North was going to take the lead into halftime, but punter C.J. Reed of Dixie County (Cross City) slipped on an punt attempt and hit his blocker in front of him. The South recovered the ball at the North 7-yard line, and on the very next play Mike Weston of Nature Coast Tech (Brooksville) rushed into the end zone to give his team an 18-14 lead with only 31.5 seconds before the half.
Weston led the state of Florida in rushing this season with over 2,900 yards on the ground.
North head coach Marcus McDonald of P.K. Yonge (Gainesville) dialed up some adjustments at halftime as the North came out in the second half and outscored the South 20-0 and allowed only 27 yards defensively.
The third quarter was key as the North defense allowed -4 yards and forced two turnovers in that period alone.
North kicker JP Dallazem of Oak Hall (Gainesville) missed a field goal early in the third quarter, but Williston’s Quinyon Mitchell, an Arizona State commit, then picked off Redd.
After the North offense bogged down and had to punt, the defense came up with a big play to take the lead as Dixie County’s Carlos Williams Jr. fell on a fumble in the end zone after a botched snap and the North All-Stars were back up 21-18.
After carrying that lead into the fourth quarter, Uveekie Fields of Hawthorne ran in from 15 yards out to cap a 51-yard drive and the North extended their lead to 27-18 only 22 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Then after the North defense once again came up big and stopped Clarke on a fourth-and-two play near midfield, Gainesville’s Niles Cromwell put the South team away by running 41 yards to the end zone with 9:01 left.
Cromwell, who rushed for 78 yards on seven carries, was named the offensive MVP of the game. Chiefland defensive lineman Wyatt Hammond earned defensive MVP honors for the North.
Vaughn ran for 35 yards on six carries and the one rushing TD, and Fields added five carries for 11 yards and the score. Quarterbacks Calvin Littles of St. Francis Catholic (Gainesville) and C.J. Strange of Williston combined for 47 yards passing, and Devonte Bowie was the North’s leading receiver with 29 yards.
The South squad was led by Clarke with seven carries for 53 yards and the two scores.
Redd was 6-of-19 for 102 yards and rushed for 18 yards on nine carries, and Weston rushed for 13 yards on five carries and a score. Joleeco Gaskin of North Marion (Citra) chipped in with 21 yards on four carries and Trinity Catholic’s Corey King added 15 yards on five carries.
Ramirez (One reception, 49 yards) and Sebastian Class of Weeki Wachee (Three catches, 39 yards) were the South’s leading receivers.
The South actually outgained the North 205-191, but the four turnovers by the South team were the key. The North did not turn the ball over in the game.
The exhibition showcased the best senior football players from 35 area schools located in counties as far north as Columbia County and as far south as Hernando County.