High School Sports

Points were at a premium in the annual North vs. South Mississippi football clash

North Pontotoc quarterback Clark Mills breaks through Poplarville defensive back D.J. Travis for a touchdown during the Bernard Blackwell Classic on Saturday, December 9, 2017.
North Pontotoc quarterback Clark Mills breaks through Poplarville defensive back D.J. Travis for a touchdown during the Bernard Blackwell Classic on Saturday, December 9, 2017. amccoy@sunherald.com

The North deployed a smothering defense Saturday to shut out the South 13-0 in the 69th edition of the Bernard Blackwell All-Star Classic, played at Gulfport’s Milner Stadium.

The North’s clean slate marked the game’s first shutout since the Ronnie Cuevas-led South squad blanked the North 24-0 in 2000. The North’s last shutout came in 1988 when Mike Justice’s squad earned a 7-0 victory.

“We had some really physical practices and really got after it,” said Tupelo coach Trent Hammond, who led the North squad. “That was the one thing we tried to stress, that we would play like we practiced.

“We didn’t want this to be a vacation. We came to play football.”

Tupelo kicker Josh Smith was the de facto offensive star of the game when firepower was at a premium for both teams. The Golden Wave senior converted both of his field goal attempts from 21 and 31 yards to give the North a 6-0 advantage at halftime.

“It’s what you expect from Josh Smith,” Hammond said of his kicker.

The North extended its lead to 13-0 on its second possession of the third quarter. After the North’s first possession of the half went nowhere, Smith pinned the South on its own 1 with a perfect punt. The North’s defense did its job to give its offense a short field and five plays after taking over at the South’s 31, North Pontotoc quarterback Clark Mills found a seam and raced 9 yards up the middle for the game’s lone touchdown.

Arguably the South’s biggest play of the game came early in the first half when Ocean Springs defensive back Malcolm Magee ranged off of his receiver to intercept a pass over the middle.

“The quarterback kept eye balling (the receiver), so I knew he was coming,” The senior Greyhound said. “I got in between the one and two, played my keys to stay inside my receiver and when he threw it, I attacked the ball at its highest point.”

The South’s offense was constantly under pressure by the North’s defensive front and it showed up in the box score. The North combined for eight sacks and 11 total tackles for loss. Conversely, the South defense failed to earn a sack and combined for just five TFLs.

“Their defensive line was pretty good and that had a lot to do with it,” said George County coach Matt Caldwell, who led the South. I thought their defensive front did a good job of establishing the line of scrimmage. I think that was the difference in the game.

Warren Central’s Walt Hopson also had an interception for the North.


George County’s Austin Walker was awarded the game ball. East Central’s Brad Cumbest and Simmons’ Marquez Pam each earned the Bill Stewart award.

The North’s MVPs were Smith and Center Hill lineman Justin Jackson. Taylorsville receiver Perry Keyes and Hazlehurst linebacker Tim Steward earned the South’s individual accolades.

Jackson led the North with eight tackles, including four sacks. Walker recorded four tackles for the South. Keyes was credited with two receptions for 18 yards, while Cumbest made two catches for 15 yards. Steward made six tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage.

Coast connection

The Coast was represented with 11 players on the South’s game day roster: Magee, Poplarville’s D.J. Travis and Austin Bolton, St. Stanislaus’ Jake Greer and J.D. Rutherford, Harrison Central’s Keon Moore, Walker, Gulfport’s Jeremiah Braziel, Resurrection’s Jackson Byrd, Cumbest and St. Martin’s Sean Gomez. East Central’s Tony Brown was selected for the game but pulled out due to injury. GCHS assistant Ron Renfroe joined Caldwell on the South’s staff.

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