It was Wendell Harris Jr.’s day from the first play of the game.
The Foley star intercepted three passes — including one on the first play of the game, and another he returned for a touchdown — on his way to earning South MVP honors in the 56th North-South All-Star Football Game at Cramton Bowl on Friday.
The North All-Stars won 14-13, its first victory in the series since 2012. The South holds the series lead 30-24-2.
Harris was Foley’s leading receiver this season this season and played sparingly on defense. He made the move to defense for the All-Star Game to help his prospects at the next level.
“The MVP would feel better if we won, but it’s a blessing. I have to thank all of my coaches and all of the people that doubted me,” Harris said. “Defense is where I want to be. It gives me a chance to be what I want, instead of offense where you have to be all skill.”
Florence quarterback Blake Hawkins led the way for the North All-Stars and claimed the team MVP. Hawkins went 5-for-9 passing for 28 yards with two interceptions, and ran nine times for 39 yards and both North scores.
Hawkins — a North Alabama signee — saw the humor Harris winning MVP thanks to his mistakes.
“I knew I wasn’t throwing the ball well, so I started telling my coach I wanted to run it and started using my legs,” Hawkins said. “It was tough to bounce back. You go out there thinking you’re all high and mighty after all week, and then you throw a pick on your first play. It kind of brings you back to reality. But I knew I had to step up for the North, and the defense put me in a position where I could come back and make plays.”
The South jumped ahead 6-0 after first-quarter field goals from Foley kicker Jose Mendoza. Hawkins ran for his first touchdown with 8:29 left in the second quarter, and Harris responded with his 37-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the South a 13-7 lead at the half.
“It was just an easy read. The receiver didn’t come off as strong as a receiver usually would, and I saw it coming the whole way,” Harris said.
Hawkins put the North ahead with 8:29 left in the fourth quarter with an eight yard run, and helped ice the game with key conversions on third and fourth downs.
With two of his own players — linebacker Sirderrick Banks and offensive lineman Jemicha Perdue — and the home band playing on the field, G.W. Carver coach Billy Gresham was right at home coaching the South All-Stars.
“It did (feel like a home game) for a minute there. We just wanted to come out and put on a good show for the city,” Gresham said. “For the two guys from Carver, this was their last football game here, possibly their last time putting on pads, I wanted them to have fun and enjoy the week and come out here and have fun and play the game.”