SALTILLO — The annual NEMFCA All-Star Football Classic featuring top seniors from around northeast Mississippi was played at Willis Wright Stadium on the campus of Saltillo High School Wednesday evening.
The result was a 29-13 come-from-behind victory for the North squad over the South.
Twenty-five players from the Daily Corinthian coverage area dotted the North roster and several played major minutes for Head Coach Stan Platt and assistants Case Ingram (Biggersville), Ivan Denton (Corinth), Samuel Hathorn (Tishomingo County), Aubrey Bell (Tupelo), Colin Harris (Corinth) and T.J. Seago (Ripley).
Denton served as offensive coordinator while Seago headed up the defense.
Back in December, Platt, the former Biggersville head coach, and his Lions lost a heartbreaker in the 1A state championship game, so the All-Star win was a soothing ointment for him.
“We lost a chance to become state champions a few months ago so yes, this is a nice way to go out,” said Platt, who has accepted a middle school position on the Alabama Gulf Coast, his new abode.
Former Corinth Coach Todd Lowery was originally handpicked to lead the North squad but relinquished the position when he assumed the offensive coordinator job with Raleigh High School a month ago. Platt was then handed the reins and watched his team rally from a 13-0 halftime deficit to win going away.
Former Corinth All-State selection Cayden Betts received the Jack Gregory Most Valuable Player Award while former Kossuth quarterback Brock Seago was presented with the NEMFCA Legacy Award.
For the entirety of the first half, it appeared the South defense would have its way with the North offense, limiting them to negative first-half yardage and a pair of turnovers. The North sustained just one drive in the opening 24 minutes, moving methodically to the South 16-yard line where they fumbled the ball away on a fourth-down attempt.
Calhoun City running back Jaylen Artberry scored the first touchdown of the All-Star contest on a two-yard run up the middle in the first quarter. South kicking specialist Luke Moffett, a Holmes CC signee, added the PAT for a 7-0 advantage.
Moffett would supply the remaining South points in the second quarter on a pair of field goals. The first came on the opening play of the second quarter from 44 yards out, a kick that bounced good over the crossbar, while the second was good from 49 with room to spare.
Trailing 13-0, and having little success offensively over the games first 24 minutes, Platt’s coordinators made some key adjustments, along with important personnel changes – especially on offense – to turn the game completely around when they returned to the field in the second half.
“Coaches Denton and Seago did a great job making those adjustments,” said Platt. “Once we got in their (South) quarterbacks face a little and started applying more pressure, and our offense began to find a rhythm, we had a great second half.”
Coming from Corinth, Denton ran the Wing-T, but it took everyone except the former Warriors to catch on and get it down.
“We’re used to running in the Wing-T,” said Betts, “but these other guys on our team, it took them a little while to catch on. But when they did, we started to dominate the game.”
Betts, who was named the Class 4A Most Valuable Player this past season, scored the North’s first touchdown midway through the third period when he broke free down the left sideline for a 55-yard TD run. Tishomingo County kicker Scott Robinson, a University of North Alabama signee, added the extra point to make it 13-7.
It stayed that way until the South found itself backed up inside it own five-yard line with less than six minutes remaining. Moffett was called for a safety when his foot came down on the out of bounds line in the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 13-9. The future Bulldog kicked off the tee, instead of punting, from the 20, directly into the waiting hands of Independence speedster Kylan Garrett, an Itawamba CC signee. Garret returned the ball to the 49 and scored on the first play of the ensuing drive by outrunning everyone on the South defense. Robinson’s PAT made it 16-14 North.
The North came up with an interception on the South’s next drive with a chance to put the game on ice. The South had their full allotment of three time outs, but Platt’s team didn’t seem concerned as they drove for another touchdown. This time it was a seven-yarder by former Corinth standout Nazarius Jones after former Biggersville All-State performer Goldman Butler sprinted 35 yards for a huge gain down the left sideline, setting the North up inside the 15- yard line.
Ripley’s Sentavious Hunt sealed the victory with a 47-yard interception return for a TD with 26 seconds remaining.
“Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the game,” said Tishomingo County Coach Richard Russo, who sits on the NEMFCA Board of Directors. “Because of COVID, we weren’t able to have the game last year so this was the eighth All-Star Classic. We plan on having a big 10-year Classic Anniversary for next year’s contest.”
The Tishomingo County “Pride of the Tribe” Marching Band, under the leadership of Alcorn Central graduate Bradley Strom, was one of two bands invited to entertain during the game this year. The other was from East Webster.
No official attendance numbers were announced, but the stadium was filled with fans even lining the fence surrounding the field.
“It was definitely a huge success,” said Russo.
The NEMFCA All-Star Classic is scheduled to return to its usual home at Tiger Stadium in Booneville for the 10th Anniversary contest in 2022.