COLUMBUS — Mike Palmer knew he wouldn’t get as many touches Tuesday as he did playing quarterback for Northeast for the past four years.
So he wanted to make the most of every opportunity in the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Game at Memorial Stadium.
Palmer caught a touchdown pass and tossed another on a trick play to help lead the South to a 27-20 win. The senior was named the South’s MVP.
“I’m speechless,” Palmer said. “I thought I could make some big plays, but being the MVP is special.”
Palmer’s two scores and the play of a stingy offensive line pushed the South, which was led by Southwest head coach Carror Wright, to a 24-0 lead. But led by quarterbacks Hutson Mason of Lassiter and Connor Shaw of Flowery Branch, the North nearly fought all the way back.
The game was only clinched when the North kicked an on-side kick out of bounds with a minute to play in the game.
“The other team has a bunch of all-stars for a reason,” Wright said. “We knew it wasn’t over. Too many good football players for that.”
But it didn’t look like it would be much of a game early.
The South defensive line led by Warner Robins’ Jeffrey Whitaker, Carver-Columbus’ Brandon Smith, Jackson’s Neiron Ball and Troup’s J.C. Copeland punished the North offensive line. The defensive linemen chased and harassed Mason, who is committed to Georgia, and Shaw, a South Carolina commitment, into six sacks and countless more hurries. It was only the elusiveness of the North quarterbacks that led them back into the game later.
“We thought all week that we couldn’t be blocked,” Whitaker said. “We did a great job of getting into the backfield and making plays.”
But the South offense was struggling until Swainsboro quarterback Malcolm Eady threw a laser to Palmer, who leaped over the top of a defender to catch it and then raced to the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown.
“I thought, ‘Just go it,’ ” Palmer said. “Then I didn’t have anybody in front of me, so I took off.”
After a 46-yard field goal by LaGrange’s Joe Mansour, the South defensive line struck again when Copeland blew through the offensive line and hit Mason knocking the ball loose into the end zone where Stephenson’s Malcolm Strong fell on the ball for the touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
The score stayed that way until late in the third quarter when Palmer caught a pitch on a reverse and threw a perfect pass to Twiggs County receiver Darqueze Dennard for a 48-yard touchdown.
The North scored its first points a few minutes later when Sandy Creek’s Isaiah Johnson picked up an Eady fumble and raced 50 yards for the touchdown.
Mansour added another field goal before the North began its fourth-quarter comeback.
The North scored on touchdown passes from Mason to future Georgia teammate Michael Bennett (of Alpharetta) and Shaw to Blessed Trinity senior and Georgia Tech commitment Jake Skole. Both touchdowns came after Mason and Shaw scrambled away from the South defensive line and found receivers who settled into holes in the coverage.
“Their quarterbacks made some great plays,” Whitaker said. “They’re great players.”
After the game, the South players doused Wright with water and put him on their shoulders.
“I got a little emotional,” Wright said. “We grew close this week. We had a lot of great young men, and I had a great coaching staff.”
xxday’s Football Boxes
SOUTH 27, NORTH 20
North 0 0 6 14—20
Home 7 10 7 3—27
S — Mike Palmer 64 pass from Malcolm Eady (Joe Mansour kick)
S — Mansour 46 field goal
S — Malcolm Strong fumble recovery in end zone (Mansour kick)
S — Darqueze Dennard 48 pass from Palmer (Mansour kick)
N — Isaiah Johnson 50 fumble return (run failed)
S — Mansour 27 field goal
N — Michael Bennett 28 pass from Hutson Mason (Richie Leone kick)
N — Jake Skole 11 pass from Connor Shaw (Leone kick)
First downs 12 11
Rushes-yards 35-63 29-78
Passing yards 116 181
Comp-Att-Int 13-30-1 10-5-1
Fumbles-lost 4-2 2-1
Penalties-Yards 6-65 7-42
RUSHING — North: Ean Pemberton (Grayson) 6-37, Rajaan Bennett (McEachern) 9-27, Cole Moon (St. Pius X) 4-30, John Lee (Apalachee) 3-9; South: Robert Brown (Westside) 11-24, Eady (Swainsboro) 10-31, Raymond Sanders (Stephenson) 7-8, Terrell Brigham (Burke County) 9-16.
PASSING — North: Mason (Lassiter) 10-20-1 84, Shaw (Flowery Branch) 3-10-0 32; South: Eady 7-10-0 120, Brigham 2-4-0 13, Palmer 1-1-0 48.
RECEIVING — North: Bennett (Alpharetta) 6-58, Skole (Blessed Trinity) 3-31, Dylan Cook (Hiram) 2-18, Chris Boyd (Roswell) 2-9; South: Palmer 2-91, Dennard 3-52, Lonnie Outlaw (Wilcox County) 1-20, Lamar Zanders (Peach County) 1-7, Shavarez Smith (Henry County) 1-4, Sanders 1-6, Brown 1-1.