MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama all-star linebacker Reuben Foster flattened Mississippi all-star tailback Darrell Robinson on the first play from scrimmage.
The tone was set.
A strong-armed, chippy all-star game resulted in Alabama’s 21-16 victory, the state’s fifth consecutive conquest of its neighboring rival Saturday at Cramton Bowl.
Rushing yards were tough to come by, but not penalty yards – the officiating crew parlayed a bevy of dead-ball personal fouls and tough-to-say pass interference calls into flagging the two teams 29 times for a combined 242 yards.
In the end, Alabama made a 21-0 lead stand up. Kicker Thomas Hamlin booted three second-quarter field goals – including one from 51 yards out – to open Alabama’s lead, which was shaved to five by a furious Mississippi fourth-quarter rally complete with a pair of 40-yard scoring passes.
Alabama’s powerful defense was ruled by Foster – a blue-chip prospect and previous commit to Auburn and Alabama – along with Auburn verbal commits Dee Liner and Kamryn Melton and Alabama commits Darius Paige and ArDarius Stewart.
“We wanted the shutout,” Liner said, “but you know, it’s an all-star game. People are gonna score.”
College officials in attendance during this recruiting period included Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and quality control coach Al Pogue, Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Tennessee cornerbacks coach Tommy Thigpen and coaches from Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
Both teams averaged 2.2 yards per carry, in an all-star event hotly battled in the trenches.
The game MVPs were Alabama’s Jason Smith – the Auburn-bound receiver caught six passes for 134 yards – and Mississippi defensive end Chris Jones, a Mississippi State commit who racked up eight tackles, including three for a loss.
Smith, a high school quarterback recruited as an all-around athlete, made an impressive one-handed catch to get Alabama in the red zone.
“I know back at McGill, I used to get mad if guys drifted on their routes, so I tried to tweak it and make everything right,” Smith said.
Central-Phenix City was represented by offensive lineman Cameron Fraser, linebacker Derek King and head coach Woodrow Lowe.
Fraser, a South Florida recruit, played most the game at right tackle, coaxing Mississippi’s Dylan Bradley into a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for shoving well after the whistle.
“It did, definitely,” said Fraser, asked if the game got more physical as it went along. “I know a bunch of the Mississippi boys, so they were jawing. Everything was all right.”
King, who is currently undecided on his college plans, rotated in early and had two assisted tackles, one for a loss.
“It was a great feeling,” King said. “Everything was going right.”
Lowe oversaw the Alabama receivers, and Smith wasn’t the only standout. Clark Quisenberry, Nate Andrews and Cameron Echols-Luper also made impressive catches in space to help quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson (Auburn) and Nick Mullens move the offense along.
“I do know there was some real growth going on, and that’s a good thing,” Lowe said. “I’ve been to quite a few of these all-star games – the Pro Bowl and the Senior Bowl. It is very, very competitive, and you’re there for a purpose. You’ve got to remember that.”
With the high school careers winding down for these football players – and the anticipation for National Signing Day leading into Feb. 6 heating up – Lowe had words of encouragement for all seniors during this transition time.
“This week, the theme has been your development. We tell the kids you’ve got to make the next step in everything,” Lowe said. “You’re still in high school, and you need to finish this year, first with grades.
“We know you’ve got some friends in high school, but you’re going to have to leave most of them behind because there’s change coming and you’ve got to keep growing. These are the dynamics we try to prepare them for.”