Football: Shore Trio Helps South All-Stars to Victory in Phil Simms North-South Game
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UNION – Toms River North’s Darrion Carrington led all players in receiving yards while Howell’s Mekai Gandy and Long Branch’s Keith Cooper came up with turnovers on defense to help the South All-Stars defeat the North All-Stars, 30-22, in the 39th annual Phil Simms North-South High School All-Star Football Classic on Monday night at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium.
Carrington was among several offensive standouts for the South and caught six passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. Gandy had a fumble recovery in the first quarter and Cooper had an interception in the fourth quarter.
Carrington had 87 yards receiving on four receptions in the first half as he took short passes from Seneca quarterback J.J. Scarpello and turned them into gains of 24, 17 and 38 yards. On the final play of the third quarter Carrington got open down the left sideline and hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Scarpello that put the South up 23-14.
“It was pretty mind-blowing,” Carrington said of the week of practice and then his performance in the game. “You come into the week and all the athletes are good and you have to fight for a spot. I got the starting position and just tried to play to the best of my abilities and make the best plays possible.”
Carrington was a Shore Sports Network first-team All-Shore selection in 2016, catching 35 passes for 927 yards and a conference-best 15 touchdowns to help the Mariners go 11-1, win the Class A South division title and reach the South Jersey Group V championship game. He will continue his career at Yale University.
Carrington’s performance put him in the running for offensive MVP honors for the South, which ultimately went to Scarpello. The Villanova-bound southpaw completed 11 of 17 passes for 155 yards and the touchdown to Carrington. Camden Catholic’s Nasir Streeter ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries and Carteret’s Keanu Chapman had a 47-yard punt return for a touchdown. Steinert’s Jordan Goodarz kicked a 22-yard field goal.
Roselle’s Isaiah Byrd ran for 58 yards and two touchdowns and also ran in a pair of two-point conversions, while Irvington’s Jyvon Brown threw a touchdown pass to Paterson Eastside’s Ramir Tann-Davis.
Gandy’s fumble recovery came when the North muffed a punt after the first possession of the game. The Howell standout was a versatile player for a Rebels team that reached the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V semifinals, scoring five touchdowns on offense and making 30 tackles with one fumble recovery on defense.
“The coaches emphasized all week creating turnovers and running to the ball,” said Gandy, who will play collegiately at Ithaca College. “I wasn’t the first man in but I ran to the ball and made the play.”
“It was a great honor to play in this game and I’m humbled,” Gandy added. “I have to thank all my coaches, my head coach (Howell’s Luke Sinkhorn) and my parents for supporting me.”
Cooper thought his chance to make an impact had literally slipped through his hands when he dropped an interception early in the fourth quarter. But just three plays later the ball came his way again and this time he pulled down the interception to squash a North drive. His turnover led to a 30-yard touchdown run by Streeter that put the South up 30-14 with 6:51 left in the game.
“All I was thinking was that it was my chance and I just blew it,” Cooper said. “A few plays later they came right back and it went over the top of the receiver’s head. I said, ‘hey this is my chance right here’.”
Cooper ran for 1,085 yards and 13 touchdowns for Long Branch in 2016, and his blazing speed contributed to several long touchdown runs. He rarely played defensive back, however, and did not have an interception in his entire high school career.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Cooper said. “I don’t usually play DB so to get my first (interception) felt great.”
Cooper was unsure of himself heading into the week, but one of his coaches at Long Branch, Kris Parker, assured him he would be just fine.
“I thought I wasn’t good enough to play but coach told me to go for it,” Cooper said. “It turned out good. I made a lot of friends and had a way better time than I thought.”
Toms River North quarterback Mike Husni split time with Scarpello but suffered a minor ankle injury early in the game and was limited. Other Shore Conference players that participated were Matawan linebacker Derrick Wiley, Ocean wide receiver Joey Aldarelli, Raritan linebacker Matt Thompson, Colts Neck offensive lineman Thomas Clark, Donovan Catholic defensive lineman Donald Rappoccio, Manasquan offensive linemen Ben Barry and Nick Pierro, Jackson Memorial offensive lineman Mitch Mills, Point Beach wide receiver Connor Kells, Colts Neck linebacker Vinnie Gargiulo and Neptune defensive lineman Damien Valentine.
Gargiulo joined brothers Nick and Anthony for a family photo with Phil Simms before the game. Nick, who was at Lycoming this past season, and Anthony, who is a fullback at Navy, also played in the North-South game as seniors.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.