Valdosta Daily Times

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January 11, 2014

'War of the Border'

South Georgia/North Florida All-Star Game

VALDOSTA — Kendall Kicklighter, Raheem Coxfield, A.J. Harper and Valdosta's Darrius Sapp, Adrian Scott, and Alex Cason all had great final performances for college scouts as the Georgia All-Stars beat the Florida All-Stars 31-24 in the first of three War of the Border games of 2014.

"It's a great event, it really is," said Rance Gillespie, Valdosta head coach and coach of the Georgia All-Stars. "This event is about the kids. It's about giving them one more opportunity. For some of the kids, tonight is their last opportunity to play organized football. All of the things this game is about are the right things."

Even though the War of the Border game is meant to provide one last high school football game for fringe college prospects, there is also a sense of pride at stake between the two states that was evident from the opening snap. Both teams came out looking to make a statement against their opponent with physical play that can be absent from these types of all-star games.

Defense and special teams dictated the game early as both teams got their respective first scores of the game via defensive touchdowns.

The Georgia All-Stars struck first blood on Florida's second offensive series of the game.

After picking up two quick first downs, Raheem Coxfield, a corner from Cook County, made a fantastic one-handed interception, weaved in and out of traffic, and took the pass 60 yards to the house to give Georgia a 7-0 lead.

Florida returned the favor on Georgia's next drive though as Gainsville High's Juan Jenkins stepped in front of a swing pass for an easy pick-six to tie the game at 7 apiece.

One of Valdosta High's star duo at running back showed a little more variety and provided a spark to the Georgia All-Stars. Malcolm Joseph, who started the game at running back, took a kick-off return to the Florida 38-yard line.

Joseph's Valdosta High teammate Alex Cason punctuated the drive four plays later with a 25-yard touchdown catch on a third-and-18 pass from Peach County High's Gregory Smith to give Georgia a 14-7 lead.

Georgia's defense forced another Florida turnover at their 10-yard line on their next drive, a fumble, which was turned into a touchdown run from Kicklighter of Turner County with 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Joseph provided another special teams spark on the ensuing kick-off — absolutely planting a Florida kick returner at the 15-yard line. The drive was stopped after a failed third-and-one conversion in which Sapp exploded through the line and blew up the play.

After a field goal put the Georgia All-Stars up 24-7, the Florida All-Stars attempted to pull a play from BCS Champion Florida State's playbook, calling for the fake punt reverse the Seminoles used on Monday night against Auburn, but Georgia was ready, sniffing out the play and forcing a fumble in the backfield. Ronald Harrell picked up the ball and took it to the end zone to give Georgia an overwhelming 31-7 lead.

Despite the big lead, this was an all-star game, and these players were playing for bragging rights so the Florida All-Stars would not go away easily.

Florida's defense forced a turnover of their own, an interception thrown by Ayantae McKever on a 'throw-back' play. Orange Park's Jacob Mezera found Dixie County High's Shaquille Mitchem for a big gain over the middle and Mitchem scored from five yards out on a jet sweep to close the score to 31-14 heading into half.

The Georgia and Florida All-Stars' defense and special team combined to force seven first half turnovers and score three touchdowns.

The Florida All-Stars used the momentum from their touchdown drive in the closing seconds of the first half to continue their surge in the second half, led by none other but the defense.

Brandon Lyons out of Fleming Island High broke a long run to set up a touchdown after a quick three and out by the Georgia All-Stars.

The Georgia All-Stars were unable to respond, fumbling a snap, leading to a Florida field goal to bring the game within a touchdown, 31-24, going into the fourth quarter.

With a one-score difference the War of the Border game seemingly waited for one player to take over and win the game for their respective side. With Gillespie coaching the Georgia All-Stars, the team's influx of Valdosta Wildcats took it upon themselves to hold the lead.

Defensive linemen Sapp and Scott disrupted the Florida offense on multiple occasions in the final quarter as Sapp continued to be a menace in the run and Scott added two sacks on the Florida All-Stars second to last drive.

The Georgia All-Stars missed a field goal from 40 yards out to give Florida one last chance to tie the game with two minutes remaining, but Coxfield was able to pick off his second pass of the night sealing the victory.

Coxfield's two interceptions earned him the Georgia All-Stars defensive player of the game award while Kicklighter's tough running earned him the offensive player of the game for the Georgia squad.

Jon Dalexis out of Oakleaf High captured the defensive player of the game award for the Florida All-Stars while Mitchem took home offensive player of the game honors.

While many players had a solid final performance for scouts, not everyone had their 'A' game on Friday night.

Trinity Catholic's Reid Carlton struggled at quarterback for the Florida All-Stars, tossing three interceptions — one to Tavish Douglas in the end zone — and losing a fumble on a botched exchange with the running back. The night wasn't all bad for Carlton though. He did score from five yards out on a quarterback draw in the third quarter to bring the Florida All-Stars within 10 points.

With a tight, competitive ball game and no serious injuries as the outcome, the first War of the Border game of 2014 looks to be a glowing success.

"This is all about giving these kids a second chance. Most of these kids are right on the fence, some colleges will look at, some aren't," said Robbie Klees, Florida's liaison. "But they come out here, they prove themselves against another state, and it gives them one last great chance. It's amazing how many boys you'll see playing college football that come out of this game. We're amazed every single year how these boys play, and it's always about that Georgia-Florida thing."

Even the liaisons responsible for organizing the showcase couldn't help showing a little of their competitive juices in the aftermath of the game.

"They came a long way. We appreciate it," said Georgia's liaison Mike Gammons. "But every time they've stepped in here in Death Valley, they ain't ever won."

The Florida All-Stars will try evening the score 8 p.m. next Friday in Moultrie as the Mike Coe-led team battles the John Reid-coached Georgia All-Stars.

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