SPORTS>>East ends West win streak
An interception thrown by East quarterback Luke Tribble of Harding Academy late in the third quarter gave West its best opportunity to take the lead in the game. West only trailed 16-13 at that point, and would start possession on the East 42-yard line.
The defense would hold, and Catholic’s LaNorris Dukes put the game away for the East with a 60-yard touchdown run along the West sideline with 8:27 remaining.
The East was in a sentimental mode to start out the game, as Wynne’s Don ‘The General’ Campbell would take to the field for the final time in his storied 39-year coaching career to coach the East team. He was joined on the sideline by Marion head coach Mark Uhiren, who served as one of the assistant coaches for the East team.
East struck first in the game with 46 seconds remaining in the first quarter with a 34-yard drive, capped by a two-yard touchdown run by Dukes. The drive was set up with a fumble recovery by East defender Bryan Church of Warren. The extra point attempt by was no good, leaving the score at 6-0.
The first West drive was unsuccessful thanks to the efforts of Jacksonville’s Norvel Gabriel. West QB A.J. Whitmore dropped back in the pocket on third and 21 at the West 24, but was dropped by the former Red Devil defensive end to give West fourth and long deep in their own territory.
It was Gabriel’s only actual sack of the night, but his constant pressure of Whitmore and the additional West quarterbacks kept their offense off-balance all night. Most of the West’s completed passes on the night were quick-strike style shots to the tight ends, done in most part to keep the relentless Gabriel out of the pocket.
The majority of the local all-stars could be found on the East’s first quarter offense. Beebe’s Drake Widener spent most of the opening period as the center, handing snaps off to former Harding Academy quarterback Luke Tribble. Jacksonville standout Nick Wilson started the game at left guard for the East.
Gabriel was the only local defender in the game, with most of ex-Wildcat James Kee’s duties coming on special teams.
One area where the West held an overwhelming advantage on the East was special teams. Former Springdale kicker Alex Tejada sent nearly every kickoff out of play in the back of the end zone, and his two field goals that kept West in the game until the late going were picture-perfect.
The East’s kicking struggled somewhat, but Mountain Home’s Jacob Bufford did send a 26-yard field goal through mid-way into the second quarter to increase the East lead to 9-0.
West scored before halftime with a touchdown that was set up with a 17-yard shoestring grab by Chad Peachey of Rogers to give West first and goal. Tejada added the point-after to make the score 9-7 at halftime.
East took the opening kickoff of the second half all the way for an eight play, 80-yard drive done mostly with the ground work of running backs Dukes and Derek Lawson of Nettleton. Tribble did help move things along with a 31-yard completion in the middle of the drive to move East into West territory. Lawson finally punched it through from three yards out with 7:17 left in the third quarter. The extra-point was good giving East a 16-7 lead.
An unsuccessful West drive gave the East possession again, but an interception thrown by Tribble gave West good field position, and led to one of two Trejada field goals that closed the gap for the West team. Trejada’s amazing foot kept the West in the game, with 38 and 31-yard field goals to pull the West back to within three, 16-13, with 11:33 still left in the game after the second conversion.
The West comeback would end there, as Dukes’ 60-yard run with 8:27 remaining would put the East back up by two scores, and killed what little momentum West had managed to build in the second half.
During the game, Gabriel proved why he was selected to appear in the elite event. After the game, he proved why young men of his character should have the chance to shine.
“This is like a dream come true for me,” Gabriel said. “I’ve seen a couple of kids from our school go the past couple of years, but I never imagined it as something I would get to do one day. All of these guys are the tops in their school; playing with them has been a great experience for me. I’m satisfied with my performance. I’m thankful to have this opportunity, not everyone gets to do this. It’s all due to my lord and savior Jesus Christ, and I give thanks to him.”
Tribble was also happy with his performance, save for one misguided play.
“It was just a bad throw,” Tribble said of his third quarter interception. “I thought I was throwing it far enough to be out, I guess I should have tried to throw it up in the stands.” Tribble could laugh about the inconsequential mistake, not letting it ruin what turned out to be a solid performance.
“This has been a unique experience,” Tribble said. “To be around a legend like coach Campbell, and to be the first East team to win in eight years is great. These are a great group of guys that I got to play with.”