GULFPORT - It took a rare offensive outburst, but the North finally snapped its losing streak in the annual Bernard Blackwell All-Star Classic on Saturday.
Aided by a 12-point fourth quarter, the North claimed a 25-16 win against the South at Milner Stadium to end its four-game skid.
The 25-point effort marked the highest score for the North since the 1998 game, which ended in a 28-28 tie.
"It was a great game overall. It was good to see all these kids get another chance to play," said North coach Pat Byrd of Saltillo. "The level of talent on the field from both sides just lets them step up and shine. It started slow but it was good to see them come back at the end. The defense kind of set them up to get in a position to win."
Both teams had three turnovers, but the North really capitalized on its three interceptions.
The North went ahead 18-14 mid-way through the fourth quarter when North Pike quarterback Juwan Adams was blindsided by a tackle. Southaven's Devan Hollins plucked it out of the air and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
The North extended its lead to 25-14 with 2:41 remaining on a 1-yard run from Germantown's Dalton Bradfield. The North had blocked a punt a few plays earlier to set up the short score.
The North took an intentional safety in the closing seconds for the final margin.
"Just too many mistakes. We had a couple of interceptions and fumbled the ball back to them," said South coach Lance Mancuso of Bassfield. "I thought our kids played really hard. Their kids just made the plays when they needed to. It's an all-star game that could go either way and that's what happened.
"We just couldn't get much of a rhythm offensively."
Playing in front of the home crowd, Gulfport running back Deon Cole rushed for a 1-yard score late in the first quarter to open the scoring. He finished with a game-high 41 yards rushing.
Adams hit Crystal Springs receiver and Southern Miss commit Jeriko Morris in single coverage down the sideline for a 33-yard touchdown late in the first half. The score pushed the South's lead to 14-0, but with seven seconds remaining, DeSoto Central's Cameron Bowman connected with Kemper City's Otis Cross Jr. for a 10-yard score to snap the shutout.
The North pulled within two points, 14-12, early in the second half on an 8-yard pass from Center Hill's Dan Ellington to Cross Jr.
Pascagoula's Jakwaize Walker intercepted the North's two-point conversion and also had an interception earlier in the game.
"It was a lot of fun. It was great being around all that talent," Walker said. "This game was about seeing how you stack up to the best athletes from all around the state. It was a great opportunity."
D'Iberville's Jacquelle Green, a Louisville commit, intercepted a pass late in the first half but it was called back because of a penalty. Warriors teammate Ty Peters intercepted another North pass a few plays later but fumbled the ball during his 25-yard return.
While getting changed in the locker room, Harrison Central's Jordon Beaton, a Southern Miss commit, had several players come up to him and congratulate him on his performance.
"To have the win would have been nice but this week wasn't all about the win," Beaton said. "It was about meeting new people, having fun. It kind of felt like going to college; meeting a new team and getting ready."
The Bill Stewart award winners for overall team MVPs went to Bradfield and Adams, who through for a game-high 105 yards. The North's defensive and offensive MVPs were Starkville defensive lineman Lorenzo Dantzler and Cross Jr.
The South's MVPs were Lake defensive lineman J.T. Gray and Morris, who caught five passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.