By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl High School All-Star game was getting ugly real fast.
As some spectators were still finding their seats in the MUS Football Stadium Saturday, the Red Team was ahead 24-7 after one quarter.
But the 12th edition of the All-Star game would end up being another thriller with the Blue Team staging a fierce second-quarter comeback. The Blue All-Stars, led by Millington Head Coach Chris Michael, pulled off a 43-38 win in the bitter cold conditions.
“It’s a lot of fun, third year down here,” Michael said. “It’s always a great week getting out here with the other kids from the other schools and you get to work with all the other coaches. There are a lot of great coaches down here.
“Everybody has a great attitude and they all work hard every day,” he continued. “It is a long week. The weather is usually not good. And it wasn’t this week. They fight through it. They get down here on Saturday, turn the lights on and they perform. It’s a whole lot of fun.”
The fun started with the Red All-Stars jumping out 3-0 after a Gary Wunderlich field goal. After the MUS place kicker’s points, the rest of the scoring in the first quarter was all touchdowns.
The Blue All-Stars answered the Red field goal with a quick drive down the field. With Blue Offensive Coordinator Will Wolfe (Brighton) shouting out the plays, Blue Team quarterback Colton Hathcock (Brighton) directed the squad to a score.
Hathcock found wide-out LaKeron Garcia of Millington for a touchdown catch making the score 7-3 in favor of Blue.
But the Blue’s lead wouldn’t last long. On the very next play, Red Team speedster Jimmy Keys Jr. of Southwind caught the kickoff at the 11-yard line. With a couple of moves, Keys was up the sideline for an 89-yard return to the end zone.
The Red advantage grew to 17-3 when Delquinton Boddie of Hillcrest crossed the goal line on a short run. Then the Red defense appeared to take total control of the game last in the first quarter with an interception return to the end zone making the score 24-7.
The second quarter started like the first, with a field goal. This time, Blue team kicker Dalton Young of Christian Brothers connected.
That was just the beginning of the Blue comeback. The Blue All-Stars snatched the momentum when Garcia took a punt at the 25-yard line. Using some of his trademark moves, Garcia blew past the Red Team and jogged into the end zone from 10-yards out.
“It was my last high school game so I had to go out and represent the Trojans one last time,” he said. “I was just going to turn it up field anyway. Once I saw it, it was time.”
With the score 24-17, it was time for the Blue team to tie the game. The Blue Team got an interception from Germantown’s Joseph Rodgers to set up the next score.
Arlington quarterback Hunter Sheffield tossed a touchdown pass to Dominic Volpe of CBHS from 30 yards out.
Before halftime, the Blue Team took the lead. A catch by Cordova’s Marquis Ward set up a touchdown run from Craigmont’s Michael Braden to make the tally 31-24.
Midway through the third quarter, the Red All-Stars tied the game at 31-31 when Melrose quarterback LeEarl Patterson found receiver Gavin McCrary of Houston for a touchdown pass.
The Blue Team took the lead back using defense. ECS lineman McKenzie Hill blasted through the line for a sack in the end zone for the safety putting Blue ahead 33-31.
The Blue All-Stars appeared to take control of the game when Hathcock located Garcia again for a touchdown pass.
“LaKeron played really well,” Michael said. “He’s been a special player for us since he walked on campus. It was great for him to get out here and excel. Everybody outside of our Region who didn’t get a chance to see him got a chance to see him showcase his talents. He did a great job and I am really proud of him.”
With touchdowns in the game Garcia said he hopes all the college scouts on the sidelines were paying attention.
“Hopefully they’ll get their scholarships ready,” he said with a smile. “I hope to hear some offers.”
But before thinking about his college future, Garcia was trying to win the All-Star game. The Red Team wasn’t giving up using a long touchdown run from Southwind’s Marcus Deanes to make the score 40-38 in favor of the Blue Team.
A late field goal from Blue and a defensive stand iced the game. Michael and his squad got a chance to leave the nearly frozen MUS turf as victors.
“They’re all a bunch of great kids,” Michael said of all the players. “You look at them as enemies throughout the course of the season.
“But then when you get out here and watch them all mesh together, watch them all become brothers in the course of a week and watch them play the game they love at a really high level,” he concluded, “everything they do is a whole lot of fun. It’s a great pleasure to coach in one of these games. It’s even greater when you come out victorious in it.”[table “” not found /]