For Saturday afternoon’s FCA East-West All-Star game, that’s exactly what players from across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia did at the Stone Castle.
The West team emerged victorious, 24-17, after trailing at the end of the first quarter.
The offensive MVP for the West team was Elizabethton’s Zach Hartley, who caught nine passes for 110 yards and one touchdown.
“This means everything in the world and I didn’t think that I’d be able to come out and play so well again,” Hartley said. “To come out here and get the win was really heartfelt.”
The defensive MVP for the winning squad was Rye Cove’s Matthew Hardin, who had a pair of sacks and one key tackle for loss late in the first half when it looked like the East team was going to score against Shawn Witten’s West squad.
“I was excited coming in and I told coach that I was going to play hard,” Hardin said. “I played today like only I know how to play. It was different at first, but by the second day, I got the hang of it. I made some new friends and I learned some new things. I couldn’t have asked for a better group and it sure felt good to put the pads on one more time.”
On the East side, Science Hill’s Connor Batchelder was the offensive MVP and Richlands’ Ethan Phillips garnered defensive honors.
“This is a game where we’re all friends and we’re all just having fun,” Batchelder said. “I had some chemistry with the receiving corps and that helped coming in. It’s always so much fun to come out with those guys and play.”
EAST STRIKES QUICKLY
Even though it fumbled on the first snap of the game, the East squad held tough on defense and forced a turnover on downs at its own 15-yard line.
On the next drive, Batchelder led his squad on a drive that covered 85 yards in 12 plays. He capped it with a TD run from 7 yards out.
After failed fourth-down conversions by both teams, the West got on the board on a 28-yard field goal by Jaxon Holly of Elizabethton.
It looked like the West was going to respond quickly after starting near midfield thanks to a chop-block penalty on the East team on the kickoff.
The West drove inside the East 30 and Cherokee’s Peter Egbert was called on for the 42-yard field goal. The kick had enough distance to be good from 50, but he pushed it to the right a bit and it hit off of the upright.
Just a few plays later, Elizabethton’s Jordan Haynes picked off a pass by Collin Trent of Cherokee and returned it 65 yards for the score to put the West up 10-7 going into the half.
The West went down the field on the opening drive of the second half and scored on a pass from Trinity’s Titus Brooks to Hartley that went 45 yards down the sideline.
The West got one more touchdown when West Greene’s Alick Daughtery threw a 13-yard fade pass to the corner of the end zone, where Gage Chambers of Hampton made the catch.
The West had a commanding 24-7 lead, but the East didn’t go down without a fight.
MAKING IT INTERESTING
After the teams once more traded failed fourth-down conversions, the East finally lit up the board again when Egbert redeemed himself.
He nailed a 49-yard field goal from the right hash and the East team took the ball thanks to the “make-it, take-it” rule installed last year.
Batchelder led his team downfield with less than five minutes to play and threw a beautiful over-the-middle pass to Hilltoppers teammate Solomon Dunn for a 34-yard score.
The East had one final try on the “make-it, take-it” rule, but two Batchelder passes with 14.6 seconds left fell incomplete and the game was over.
THOUGHTS FROM THE COACH
Witten has become accustomed to winning this season after leading his Elizabethton team to a victory in the TSSAA Class 4A championship game against Springfield two weeks ago to cap a 15-0 season.
On Saturday, his West squad rallied and came out on top.
“It’s pretty cool reading all these kids’ names in the paper, watching them on television or on film and then coming out here getting to work with them for the week,” Witten said. “It’s cool getting to watch them growing up, too. ... The fellowship is one of the best parts about this game. Also these guys have been playing against each other for four years and now they get to be teammates for one game. It’s great to meet a lot of kids from far away places like up in Southwest Virginia.”
West 24, East 17
East 7 0 0 10 — 17
West 0 10 7 7 — 24
E—Batchelder 7 run (Egbert kick)
W—Holly 28 Field Goal
W—Haynes 65 interception return (Alderson kick)
W—Hartley 45 pass from Brooks (Holly kick)
W—Chambers 13 pass from Daughtery (Alderson kick)
E—Egbert 49 FG
E—Dunn 34 pass from Batchelder (Egbert kick)