The question made Anthony Jones chuckle.
The head football coach at Cordova High School and head coach of the Blue team in the 15th annual Auto Zone Liberty Bowl All-Star game, Jones was asked if all the Blue all-stars were on his Cordova team, what kind of team would that be?
“It definitely would be an unfair advantage. This Liberty Bowl All-Star team you get the best of the best. To have them on Cordova High School’s team would be a true blessing but it is unrealistic,” said Jones, who coached the Wolves to a 12-2 record and the school’s second state semifinal appearance. Their only losses were to Whitehaven, which won the Class 6A state championship.
What was realistic at the All-Star game at Memphis University School on Saturday was defense.
With Jones’ own Cordova player Harold Lacy scoring the lone touchdown, the Blue defeated the Red All-Stars 10-3.
“Any time you’ve got good football players on both sides of the ball for both teams, you are going to expect that the offense is not going to score 40 or 50 points. The Red team is too good on defense,” said Jones.
While the 2015 game was won by the Red 18-14, the three previous games were high scoring: 58-49 in 2012, 43-38 in 2013, 45-39 in 2014.
This year’s battle “wasn’t the burn-out, shoot-out like you want in an all-star game to be, I thought it was a good game,” said Red head coach Joe Rocconi, head coach at White Station High School. “We couldn’t get much rolling offensively. The (Red) defense played phenomenal. I thought special teams did a great job, too. It was field position. We had a key turnover in position to score. Then we had a fumble on the next play. It was a costly deal.”
With the game tied at 3-3 in the third quarter, Blue quarterback Tyrique Sandusky of Ridgeway who has committed to East Tennessee State fumbled at the 1. The Red’s Jaylon Burris of East High recovered.
However, on the next play mike linebacker Tyler Garvey of Collierville recovered at the 2 and from there Lacy scored the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds left. Dylan Scott of Collierville kicked the PAT for a 10-3 lead.
Also recovering a fumble on the Blue 40-yard line in the second quarter, Garvey was named the game’s MVP.
“It means a lot,” said Garvey, who was named defensive MVP for Collierville this season and last.
Jones said the award “could not have gone to a more deserving young man. He has to have (shoulder) surgery on Thursday. He sacrificed his body for a bunch of guys that he really did not know and for coaches the first time meeting. He did a great job for us. I am extremely proud of him. Nobody deserved the award more than Tyler.”
While being recruited by Southeast Missouri State, Garvey said that he plans to wait until February’s signing date to announce his college choice.
The Red team’s Aubrey Miller, who won this year’s 6A Mr. Football Lineman award the Monday before his Whitehaven team won the state championship on Dec. 3, also “had a great game defensively,” said Roconni.
Miller, who has committed to Missouri, intercepted a pass thrown by Keagan Voss of CBHS at the Blue 20-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
Miller had a great halftime. Taking off his shoulder pads after the first half, Miller participated in the Chick-fil-A Chin-up Challenge and did 24 chin-ups in a minute to win.
“It was fun. It was easy for me,” said Miller, who said this game was all about fun. “I didn’t care about winning or losing this game as long as we had fun.”
Being named Mr. Football meant that he was “blessed,” he said, for his hard work.
A blessing is how Houston running back Carson Blackfan, playing for the Red, described being in the game.
“It’s an unbelievable experience for me to be around the best athletes, the best football players. It’s a blessing to compete with such a great group of young men and have the best coaches out here as well. I met new friends and will know the rest of my life. I am glad I was a part of that,” he said.
Playing running back and receiver, Blackfan “had a really good game” said Roconni. “He did a good job and had some good catches.”
In the third quarter, Blackfan had a 9-yard run to the Blue 6-yard line but a penalty nullified the gain. From the 28, the Red regained the penalized yards as Mario Nolan-Dillard, who quarterbacked Lausanne to the Division 2-A state championship, threw to Kyree Roberson of Oakhaven and then to Kelton Neyland of Westwood, who made a great catch at the 10-yard line.
An incomplete pass set up fourth down. Houston’s Jacob Painter then kicked a 27-yard field goal with 5:06 left in the third quarter to tie the game at 3-3.
“He was a late add-on because we did not have a kicker nominated at first. That was a key pick-up, especially punting field position and kickoffs. He hit a key field goal that fell off the block and he kicked it through. I thought he had a phenomenal game and he has a strong leg,” said Roconni.
Painter called it a “big opportunity” and “big honor” to be selected to play.
Players were nominated by their coaches and the all-star coaches, including assistant coaches, along with a Liberty Bowl committee made the final choices.
Evan Smith, a linebacker from MUS, was an honorary selection for the Red team. He had broken his leg against Briarcrest and has two more weeks in a walking cast until he can resume workouts.
“It is a big honor to be out here with the best guys in Memphis. I wish I could play today. To get to see these guys practice all week was awesome. I think it will make me better,” said Smith.
Blue linebacker Will Barto of Briarcrest said, “It’s been a pleasure to meet all these guys and get to play with them and play one more game of high school before going to the next level.”
The son of former standout Memphis linebacker Danton Barto, Will Barto has committed to Akron.
“I have had a good three-year career (at Briarcrest) and get to show all the doubters that I can play at the next level.”
From his father he said that he has learned intensity, work ethic and motivation.
DeQuan Dallas of Melrose said his Red squad played hard the entire game. “You win some and lose some.”
It was the lowest scoring game since the Blue defeated the Red 7-6 in 2003.
“I thought it would be a little more high scoring than that,” said Blackfan. “Defense was huge. Their defense was stellar.”
Many of the plays were three and outs that kept punters Scott and Painter active in the 40-degree game.
“It was like another game. It was a little cold but I kept my hands warm,” said Scott.
The Blue did get to the Red 8-yard line in the first quarter on passes from Devin Coleman of Cordova to Orreon Finley of KIPP and Lacy’s first down run but Coleman was intercepted in the end zone by Roland Williams of White Stations. He returned it to the Red 37.
Red quarterback Jerry Craine of Wooddale hurled a pass to Kylan Watkins of Whitehaven who made a great under-pressure catch at the Red 44.
After Craine’s pass to Blackfan to the Red 48, Craine was sacked by Blue’s Cervantes Reed of Ridgeway. He had 11 sacks during the season, 20 career sacks.
Painter was forced to punt.
The Blue got to the Red 6-yard line on the strength of KIPP’s Dewayne Betts’ 28-yard pass to Finley, a pass to Vincent Taylor of Ridgeway and a 28-yard run by Lacy.
The Blue got its first score on a 23-yard field goal by Scott with 4:51 left in the second quarter.
The second quarter also included a sack of Sandusky by Bryan Taylor of Southwind and a great catch by Hamilton’s Roadarius Sanders of a Sandusky pass. The Blue led 3-0 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Scott had a 43-yard punt. The Red team advanced the ball to the Blue 15-yard line on a 12-yard run by Nolan-Dillard. That drive is what led to Painter’s field goal.
The Red was about to tie the game in the fourth quarter. After passes by Nolan-Dillard to Watkins to the 19-yard line, Nolan-Dillard ran to the 9 yard line for a first down. Watkins then ran to the 1 but Arlington’s Brandon Parker stopped him for a loss to the six.
On fourth and six, Nolan-Dillard threw an incomplete pass with 3:58 left.
“He made a key drive. We would have liked to have had a TD but he did a great job of driving it downfield,” said Roconni.
“Anytime you get a bunch of coaches from different schools and different backgrounds, different schemes, different playbooks, they did a great job combining into one system. Hats off to the coaches,” said Jones. “They are the guys who put in all the ground work.”
Bartlett’s Marquavius Weaver, who played for the Blue, said, “We came from different schools and practiced together and made one team.”
During the week’s practice, defensive end Garrison Boling of Northpoint Christian School stood out said Roconni.
“It’s a tremendous honor to me personally. My favorite thing is the quick comradery with coaches of other schools,” said Roconni. “The players’ comradery I also love. It’s amazing, you get a bunch of kids who are vey competitive and they bond in six days.”
Jones bragged on the play of Jake Powers, a safety from Briarcrest who is being recruited by Morehead State, and Barto.
“Those are both unbelievable guys.”
Jones was also proud of Lacy.
“He is a Cordova guy. That is a true testament to what the coaches at Cordova have done with him the past three seasons and I am excited for him and his family.”
For Arlington Head Coach Adam Sykes, who was a Blue assistant, it was being on the same side as players he coached against.
“When they are on the same team, it’s just like any other player. You want what is best for them. It is good to have them on your side. They all bought into that this week.”
Said Roconni, “It was a good game, other than we didn’t come out on top. I thought the kids played great. The Liberty Bowl did a great job putting it together as always. I am proud to be a part of it. We showed the talent and type of character these kids have in Memphis.”
1-Timothy Taylor; RB, East; 2-Kelvin Parker, LB, Fairley; 3-Myles Baker, CB, White Station; 4-Shabar Wilson, DL, Whitehaven; 5-Kreshun Jones, LB, Wooddale; 6-Kendric Jones, CB, Melrose; 7-Mario Nolan-Dillard, QB, Lausanne; 8-Are’Kevious Sears, WR, Melrose; 9-Jerry Craine, QB, Wooddale; 10-Myrone Kimber, WR, Wooddale; 11-Kylan Watkins, RB, Whitehaven; 12-Rashad Haynes, ATH, Central; 13-Kelton Neyland, WR, Westwood; 14-Starsky Miller, LB, Melrose
15-Roland Williams, CB, White Station; 17-Clevon Doby, FS, Mitchell; 18-Pershawn Banks, QB, Sheffield; 19-Kameron Williams, QB, Southwind; 20-Oganna Oraedu, DE, MUS; 21-Demarion Yancey, RB, BTW; 22-Aubrey Miller, LB, Whitehaven; 23-DeQuan Dallas, ATH, Melrose; 24-Trevor Forbes, S, White Station; 25-Kyree Roberson, LB, Oakhaven; 28-Bradley Foley, DB/LB, MUS; 34-Tre Curtis, RB, FACS; 38-Garrett Baugh, ATH, Munford; 39-Evan Smith, LB, MUS
42-Hosea Franklin, RB, Kirby; 44-Garrison Boling, DE, Northpoint; 45-Carson Blackfan, RB, Houston; 50-Tyler Walton, OL, Whitehaven; 51-Derrick Gainey, OL, MAHS, 52-Mason Harwell, DL, Harding; 54-Michael Neely, LB, St. Benedict; 58-Darrick Jackson, OL, Whitehaven; 64-Anthony Geter, OL/DL, Whitehaven; 65-Dewayne McIntyre, DL, Kirby; 72-Jarius Douglas, OL, Lausanne; 75-Jalen Jones, OL, White Station; 79-Kourtney Partee, OL, Hillcrest; 85-Rodarious Sanders, WR, Hamilton; 99-Bryan Taylor, DL, Southwind
Staff: Head coach, Joe Rocconi (White Station); assistants, Chester Ford, Melrose; Jerome Griffin, Wooddale; Dwayne Harris, Westwood; Will Hudgens, Houston; Kevin Patterson, Fairley; Greg Wallace, Northpoint
1-Tyrique Sandusky, QB, Ridgeway; 2-Chase Hayden, RB, St. George’s; 3-Tavarious Foster, RB, Arlington; 4-Devin Coleman, QB, Cordova; 5-Cordarrian Richardson, RB, Trezevant; 6-Noah Johnson, WR, Arlington; 7-Dewayne Betts, QB, KIPP; 8-Noah Pope, DE, St. George’s; 9-Marquavious Weaver, RB, Bartlett; 10-Ben Glass, QB, St. George’s; 11-Corey Jones, WR, St. George’s; 12-Ardous Holloway, LB, Fayette Academy; 13-Andre Golden, WR, Brighton; 14-Blake Armour, LB, Brighton
15-Keegan Voss, ATH, CBHS; 16-Dylan Scott, K/P, Collierville; 17-Joseph Newberry, CB, Ridgeway; 18-D’Monte Kemp, CB, Millington; 19-Jake Powers, S, Briarcrest; 20-Brandon Parker, LB, Arlington; 22-Vincent Taylor, WR, Ridgeway; 23-Orreon Finley, WR, KIPP; 26-Will Barto, LB, Briarcrest; 27-Jordan Wiseman, DE, Manassas; 34-Tyler Garvey, LB, Collierville; 34-Sondre Brown, LB, Craigmont; 40-Tijuan Mason, DE, Trezevant; 44-Tavaris Moore, ATH, Rossville 51-Trevion Ross, DL, Cordova; 55-Trey Goins, DL, Germantown; 59-Preston Brady, OL, ECS; 61-Ahmad Malone, OL/DL, Collierville; 64-Brayden Helton, OL, Brighton; 68-Julian Atkins, OL, Overton; 72-Darron Moss, DL, Douglass; 76-Jordan Jackson, OL, Arlington; 77-Griffin Hawkins, OL, Briarcrest; 80-Cervantes Reed, DE, Ridgeway; 85-Maher Angalo, WR, Douglass
Staff: Head coach, Anthony Jones, Cordova; assistants, David Carter, St. George’s; Carl Coleman, Manassas; Preston Harris, Douglass; Robin Jacobs, Brighton; Adam Sykes, Arlington
Written by Bill Sorrell, special to the Express.