BY DALE A. LEONARD
MADISON - Other than humidity values soaring near 105 degrees, defense proved to be the hottest thing at 54th annual Bernard Blackwell All-Star Football Classic.
Friday night before a crowd of 2,500 at Jaguar Stadium on the campus of Madison Central High School, the North All-Stars edged the South 10-6.
The South committed three first-half turnovers with Lafayette County standout Jeffrey Dukes, who will play next season at Northwest Community College, coming away with two takeaways.
"I just came out and tried to play my best game," said Dukes. "Coach told me to step it up, and I came out and played as hard as I could. We knew they were going to throw the ball a lot. They had a good quarterback with a good arm."
With neither squad able to generate much offense in the early going, Dukes picked off a Kethone McLaurin pass at the 39-yard line with 2 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the opening quarter. Four plays later, the North went on top 7-0 setup by a 43-yard Jeremy Young pass to Eupora's Eric Marshall. Greg Clark plunged in from 1-yard out.
Punter Kevin Dowell of Senatobia, who averaged 41 yards a kick, was the game's Most Valuable Defensive Player. Dowell, also a Northwest signee, added a 40-yard field goal with 2:40 remaining in the contest.
Young, who played the entire game, was named the game's Most Valuable Offensive Player. He competed 7 of 21 passes for 165 yards and received good protection by the North's offensive line, which was keyed by Amory's John Griffith.
"Defense was the key to the game," said North assistant coach Dennis Allen of West Point. "Both teams had good defenses, but I think the key was the secondary. We had a lot of speed and of course they had some. But it's an all-star game. There were great players on both sides."
Scoring on the first series of the second-half, the South marched 70 yards on a 16-play drive that consumed nearly nine minutes of the third quarter. Cody Hull scored on a 3-yard run. However, Craig Beasley rushed the PAT kick, leaving the count at 7-6.
The South made a pair of last-ditch efforts in the final frame. However, Okolona's Kareem Moore and West Point's NeAndre Hoskins came up with a pair of spectacular stops to force punting situations.
Lafayette County's Eric Rowsey also aided in the North's defensive stand. Baldwyn's Willis Beene had a pair of punt returns for 26 yards and rushed the ball once on offense for two yards in the closing stages of the game.
The South still leads the overall series 24-22-4.