MOBILE, Ala. - They call it The Classic, and the squads from Alabama and Mississippi made sure it lived up to the title.
The 2010 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic was decided in two overtimes, with Alabama prevailing 24-17 behind a 10-yard run by running back Ameer Abdullah (Homewood) on a direct-snap which was followed by a defensive stand from the Yellowhammer State.
"It felt great because we had been waiting all night to pull out that play," Abdullah said of the winning touchdown. "We had good field position, just 10 yards to go before the goal line. It felt like the right time to get the ball in my hands and I had to make a play."
Alabama forced overtime as LSU quarterback commitment Stephen Rivers (Athens) came in and led a drive from midfield in the final three minutes. He connected with Southern Miss wide receiver commitment Emmanuel Johnson (McKenzie) for a 36-yard touchdown pass with 1:11 remaining to trim Mississippi's lead to 14-12.
"I was just glad I got to come in there and lead that last drive," Rivers said. "It was great. It just makes me more excited about playing at the next level. I just give credit to the great receivers and the great offensive linemen."
Alabama then tied the game on a two-point conversion where Rivers found a wide-open wide receiver Danny Woodson (LeFlore) streaking across the middle of the end zone. Woodson, an Alabama commitment, said he was ready to fight tooth-and-nail for the ball but was surprised to find himself all alone.
"Coach knew I was going to come across the middle and that I wasn't going to give up on the ball," Woodson said. "He called my number, threw the ball to me, and I made the play."
Alabama got on the board first when Florida State quarterback commitment Jacob Coker (St. Paul) found Auburn wide receiver commitment Sammie Coates (Leroy) for a 39-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter. The Alabama extra point was blocked by LSU defensive back commitment Jalen Collins (Oliver Branch).
Mississippi's offense was unable to immediately answer, but its defense came up with a big play when Mississippi State defensive back commitment Kendrick Market (South Panola) forced and recovered a Kardeem Poole(Prattville) fumble. Market scooped and scored from 27 yards out.
Mississippi stretched out their lead in the third quarter when Ben Stevens (West Jones) connected with Mississippi State commitment Nickalos Brassell (South Panola) for a 63-yard touchdown. It was one of the few bright spots for the Mississippi offense which managed just 97 offensive yards, including minus-18 on the ground.
The two teams exchanged field goals in the first overtime.
Alabama extends streak to three
With the victory, Alabama has now won three consecutive Classics and 11 of the last 13 meetings between the two states. It is a source of pride for the prospects who will now turn their attention to the college ranks.
"It is an amazing win for us," Alabama linebacker Brent Calloway (Russellville) said. "I am very excited about the win. I am happy for my guys that we came out with a win. It feels like a state championship."
With Alabama's offense struggling for a majority of regulation, Calloway and the defense stepped up, keeping Mississippi in check outside of the big touchdown pass from Stevens to Brassell. He said that was the mantra all week in practice, for the defense to win the game. Calloway did his part racking up a team-leading nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss equating to 11 yards, and a shared sack for two yards.
"We just tried to shut them out," the Alabama commitment said. "We told everybody to get to the ball and that is what we did. We tried to shut them out on defense and come away with the win."
For Woodson, Alabama's leading receiver with seven receptions for 72 yards, he said that the team stuck together despite needing to rally in the final moments of regulation to force overtime. When they celebrated their game-tying score with 1:11 remaining, he felt confident they would prevail in the extra frames.
"It felt good," Woodson said. "We had to compete together and come up with hustle and get everything situated. Then we got everything going."
Following a celebration at midfield with their teammates, the Alabama squad was not afraid to share their sentiment on the statement they made in victory.
"It shows that Alabama has some of the best players and we can compete with other states," Woodson said.
Woodson's offensive counterpart, Abdullah, went a little bit further with his reason for the victory.
"We are better," Abdullah said. "We are better athletes."
Rivers comeback effort earns him MVP honors
Through three quarters, Rivers was just 8-for-13 for 59 yards and no touchdowns. Over his stint on the final two drives of regulation and then overtime he turned it on going 6-for-11 down the stretch for 64 yards, a touchdown, and the crucial two-point conversion. That performance earned him MVP honors for the Alabama squad.
"I didn't expect that," Rivers said. "It feels great. I feel it is an honor to be the MVP of this game."
The LSU commitment will now turn his attention to his college career in Baton Rouge, but admits he couldn't have scripted a better finish to his high school career.
"I couldn't ask for a better finish," Rivers said. "I am just glad I got to lead the team to that last drive."
"I am glad to end my high school career on a win," Rivers added.
Mississippi MVP Johnson impressive
It was no secret coming into the game that linebacker C.J. Johnson (Philadelphia) was one of the better players in the Magnolia State, but after his performance in Ladd-Peebles Stadium, it can be argued that he is the best player in Mississippi. Playing both linebacker and defensive end on the day, Johnson racked up 17 tackles, two sacks for 13 yards, and three tackles for loss for 18 yards on his way to MVP honors.
"I was just playing hard," Johnson said. "Coach seen that I outmatched tackles on the outside, seen that I was a lot faster than them. If I couldn't out-quick them, then I probably could beat them with my strength. We kind of used that to our advantage to have a successful game."
While Johnson was proud of his individual honor, he was disappointed that the Mississippi defense wilted down the stretch and allowed Alabama to claim the victory late.
"It is real disappointing because we played so well for so long and then we surrendered a couple touchdowns late," Johnson said. "We hadn't beaten those guys in a while and that is something coach stressed in practice all week but we just couldn't get it done."
Mississippi running back Qyendarius Griffin (South Panola) was taken off the field via a stretcher late in the third quarter after taking a big hit from Alabama defensive end Denzell Perine (Davidson). The early word on Griffin was that he had a stinger.