HIGH POINT - In his final high school football game, recent Starmont graduate Zack Worley shined on the biggest stage.
Worley and a stout West defensive unit slowed down the East All-Stars en route to a thrilling 14-7 victory Wednesday night in the 65th North Carolina Coaches Association East-West All-Star Game at A.J. Simeon Stadium on the campus of High Point University.
“It was a great experience to see a group of young men from all over the western part of the state become a team and play hard for each other in a weeks time,” Starmount head coach and West assistant coach Scott Johnson said after the game. “[Personally], it was a honor to be selected to represent all of the current and former players and coaches, as well as the Starmount community.”
Worley, who walked in Starmount’s June graduation ceremony, tallied an unofficial eight tackles on the night, including two tackles for loss, to help anchor the West defense that allowed just 116 yards of total offense on the night.
Despite the strong defensive showing, the West All-Stars played from behind much of the game until a final frantic five minutes.
Trailing 7-6 with 5:27 left to play, Freedom tailback David Burgess hauled in a screen pass in the flat from quarterback Garrett Young (East Lincoln) and scampered 79 yards down the right sideline for the g0-ahead score.
Hendersonville’s Desean Jackson plowed in for the two-point conversion to give the West Team a 14-7 cushion.
But the East put together a valiant comeback attempt, driving the length of the field to the 28-yard line with under a minute to play.
Quarterback Vincent Jefferies (Garner) hit Denzel Keyes (Kinston) on a screen pass to the left side, who launched a pass into the endzone. Pinecrest’s Dwayne Simpson bobbled the throw before bringing it in for what appeared to be the game-tying score. But the play was called back on a penalty.
The West D stiffened and picked off a final heave into the endzone with no time remaining to secure the wild 14-7 victory as the team rushed the field in celebration.
The frantic finish came after the East struck first midway through the second quarter.
After Southern Durham’s Antonio Davis intercepted Young’s pass on the left sideline, a penalty moved the East deep into West territory.
Josh Joyner (Hunt) rushed around left-end and found paydirt from three yards out to give the East an early 7-0 advantage they would take into the locker room.
After a lengthy halftime show, that included a fireworks show, the West opened the third quarter with some fireworks of their own.
A long punt return from Statesville’s Marquis Willis set up the West on the 22 yard line. Two plays later, Burgess broke through arm tackles and found the endzone from 17 yards out. The ensuing two-point conversion was snuffed out as the East maintained the 7-6 lead.
Both offenses stalled from there, with neither team able to find any rhythm until Burgess’ thrilling touchdown pass-and-catch, which secured Most Valuable Player honors for the former Freedom running back.
The win was the West’s third victory in the past four years in the annual clash of the state’s best talent. The East All-Stars cap the week of festivities with a 3-1-1 mark in the showcase games after basketball and soccer showdowns.
While the East-West Games drew to a close Wednesday night, so did Worley’s career on the gridiron. But Johnson said he was “proud” to get to coach his former player in one final game.
“I was very proud to get to coach Zack in one more game. He is an outstanding young man who always played with all of his heart,” he explained. “He played very well. I don’t know his stats for the game, but he had an impact.”
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.