Typically, all-star football games don’t come down to special teams play.
With the relaxed rules, field goals and extra points are usually a mere formality. And punt returns are either fair catches or balls downed by the kicking team.
But Friday night at Pace High School for the 9th Annual Subway High School All-Star football game, special teams provided the two biggest plays in the game.
Escambia’s T.J. Myers’ 94-yard punt return in the second quarter and a botched extra point by Niceville’s Andrew Mitchell paved the way for the West squad to pull out a 15-6 win over the East at a cold Patriot Stadium.
Myers gave the West a 7-0 lead late in the second quarter, when he picked up a rolling punt by Mitchell and shot down the East sideline en route to the 96-yard touchdown.
On the two previous punts by the East, the ball was downed inside the 30-yard line. This time, Myers saw an opening when the defenders relaxed, and he pounced on it.
“I noticed on the punt before that they had kind of slowed up after the ball hit the ground,” Myers said. “I said that if I had a chance, I would scoop it and go.
“I knew I had to make something happen, and I just took a chance.”
Myers only had one player to beat, and that proved to be an easy task as he raced past Mitchell near midfield and went untouched into the end zone.
“That was just a heads-up play,” said Washington coach Craig LaBorde, who coached the West squad to the victory. “It’s one of those plays where as a coach you’re screaming ‘No! No! No! Go! Go! Go!'”
The West defense made that 7-0 lead stick until late in the fourth quarter, when the East converted a fumbled snap by Trebian Suggs into a touchdown.
Mitchell went up top to Choctaw’s Gaston Rackard, who hauled in the 42-yard TD strike between two defenders.
On the subsequent PAT, though, the snap to the holder was low, forcing the timing to be thrown off by a second. Mitchell’s kick was a low knuckle ball that went under the crossbar to keep the West ahead by a slim, 7-6, margin.
Tate’s Lorenzo Long provided the West with a little breathing room with a 30-yard TD run with 43 seconds left in the game. Pensacola’s Blake Norwood hooked up with teammate Jonathan Bennett for the two-point conversion to make it a 15-6 game.
Pine Forest’s Trebian Suggs was named the West squad offensive MVP after rushing for 51 yards on nine carries. Northview’s Roderick Woods was named the defensive MVP for the West after finishing with a game-high 13 tackles.
It was a fitting end to Woods’ career, which ended prematurely when he aged out during the season. He missed the final three regular season games, and all of Northview’s state championship run.
“It felt so good to be out there tonight,” Woods said. “I had been waiting for this game for a long time. I didn’t get a chance to go out the way I wanted, so this was my opportunity to go out on top.
“You can’t beat going out with a win, and you can’t beat being named the defensive MVP. I’m really honored to get that award.”
Fort Walton Beach linebacker Zach Cresse was named the East defensive MVP, while Rackard was the offensive MVP. Rackard caught four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.
“It was a good ballgame, it was a lot of fun,” LaBorde said. “We came together as a group. We told them early on, except for the four kids from Northview, everybody in the room’s season ended too early.
“We felt like we had some good ballplayers in Escambia County. We wanted to come out and be physical and play Escambia County football. The kids came together and had a good week.”