MIAMI, Fla. - With 1:55 to go in the 2nd annual Offense-Defense All-Star Game, the West team had the ball deep in its own territory down 12-8 on a crucial 4th and long. What came next were fireworks
A five to ten-minute fireworks spectacle took place just before the players were lining up for the critical play. The magnitude of the spectacle forced the players to stand and watch the show rather than play through it, but that wasn't the only misfire on the day.
In a game in which miscues proved to be the deciding factor, it was only fitting that the post-game fireworks show would kickoff just a few plays too early. When the smoke cleared, a pass from Beau Sweeney to Marvin Jones came up a yard short and the East took a knee on the 4-point win.
Regardless of talent, when you throw a group of players that have only practiced together for three days onto a rain-soaked field, execution is bound to suffer. On Friday night, it was all about what team could find a way to capitalize on its opportunities.
On the opening series, the East squad began its opportunistic play when Makiri Pugh intercepted Nathan Stanley on one of the first few plays from scrimmage. Though the East was not able to turn the interception into points, a second interception in the second quarter broke up a 0-0 tie.
Rodney Gilley pulled down Sweeney's second interception later in the half and this time the East took advantage. Quarterback Justin Tuggle made some nice completions to Amos Woods, Michael Shaw sprinkled in a sharp run for a big gain and Melvin Ray made something out of nothing on a screen pass, all of which led to a Robert Yanks field goal and a 3-0 halftime lead.
The low score at halftime was due in part to miscues and struggles in the inclement weather, but credit the defense for both teams, particularly the defensive line play. For the West Armond Armstead was all but unblockable, pressuring the quarterback, disrupting the running game and making tackle after tackle in the backfield.
For the East there was a whole cast of characters that were hearing their names called. Earl Okine was named the defensive MVP after gathering a bushel of sacks on the night while Keith Wells was giving offensive linemen fits from the other end of the line. However, perhaps the player that was most dominant was Corey Liuget.
David DeCastro was playing center for the West after putting together a very strong week of practice but neither DeCastro or his teammates could come up with a solution for Liuget. I he wasn't getting a sack of his own, Liuget was forcing the quarterback or the running back into one of his teammates' waiting arms. The scary part is, Liuget wasn't satisfied.
"I think it could have been better," Liuget said of his performance. "I could have gotten off the ball a little bit quicker and just gotten a few more sacks. I believe I got four but I wanted six or ten."
Despite what Liuget thinks, he and his teammates were dominant in the trenches and were one of the key elements to the East victory. Liuget said that they were prepared for that role.
"Coach Carter told us that the way we were gonna win the game is up front," he said."We weren't gonna win the game anywhere else but up front, offensive line and defensive line so we had to come together in the trenches and what not."
In the second half, there were more big plays to be made. Both teams began to rely more on the running game and for good reason. Cyrus Gray put together several good runs on the night for the West, avoiding tacklers, showing speed by bouncing the ball to the outside and creating opportunities for his team. Gray's backfield mate Jamal Womble also proved to be a slippery target, avoiding tacklers in tight spaces on numerous occasions.
For the East, Devoe Torrence and Michael Shaw proved to be great offensive weapons. Torrence was the most consistent back on either team, slicing up the West defense with his quick feet and tough running style. Shaw was more of a home run threat and showed great explosiveness out of his cuts, really impressing all week long.
Despite the production coming out of the backfield, the game-breaking play on the night came once again from the East defense.
On 4th and 1 at its own 40 yard-line, the West opted to go for the first down calling a fullback dive to Sausan Shakerin. Befoere Shakerin could get back to the line of scrimmage, East linebacker Mike Zordich was in the backfield. In one fluid motion, Zordich stripped the ball and turned up field, sprinting to the end zone for a touchdown.
"He didn't get too good of a handoff, it was kind of loose in his hands so I kind of hit his elbow a little bit and then Yancich came in and ripped it up and the ball went flying in the air and landed in my hands and I just took off with it," Zordich said.
The fumble recovery wasn't a fluke either. Zordich was all over the field on the defensive end, making tackles behind the line and flying around through passing lanes. Part of the reason for his productivity may have been the same reason for some other players' struggles.
"I love playing in the rain," he said. "That's my kind of game. If I could pick that's what I'd choose to play in. I kind of took advantage of it cause that's what I like to do and we just got it done on defense."
The Zordich touchdown put the East in a comfortable 12-0 lead that was only threatened by the play of West quarterback Matt Scott. The Arizona commit didn't get any snaps in the first half but came in the game in the second half and lead some of the most productive drives of the night for the West.
His 4th quarter scramble into the end zone to draw the score to 12-8 kept the game in doubt right up until the early fireworks display.
Notes: Mike Zordich was named overall MVP, Earl Okine was named defensive MVP and Matt Scott was named offensive MVP
Kermit Tyler was projected to start at guard for the West but had an allergic reaction to a pregame meal and didn't play in the game. Tyler's absence forced the West to use defensive linemen on the offensive line and added to its protection woes
Felton Banks was injured in the game and was on crutches on the sidelines most of the second half
In large part due to the weather most of the wide receivers were not able to showcase their skills but several players stood out in the front seven, Zordich, Armstead, Okine, Wells, Liuget, Chase Clement, Marcus Dowtin and Brandon Beachum were some of the most productive defensive players on the night.
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