Team Highlight defeated Team Nitro, 31-21, in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game on Thursday afternoon, though few in the crowd truly cared about the final score.
This is, after all, just an all-star exhibition. The result doesn't matter like it does in an actual game. What matters is the performance of each player.
There are two ways for a college program to walk away a winner from St. Petersburg, Fla., each season. One is by landing a commitment or two among the players making their announcements—especially those who are considered toss-ups. The other is by watching their already committed players steal the show.
Let's take a moment to look at the box score, dissect what we saw and examine which players stood out:
|Score by Quarter||First||Second||Third||Fourth|
Perhaps not by coincidence, a low-scoring slugfest turned into a relative shootout in the second half. There were more touchdowns scored in the fourth quarter (4) than the other three quarters combined (3).
A lot of that has to do with focus. There's less motive to compete as hard toward the end of the game, for some players, as the light at the end of the tunnel draws nearer. Or at least that's just one potential theory.
Maybe the offenses just worked into a rhythm?
|Qtr - Time||Play||V-H|
|1st - 6:19||RED - Washington, Jacory 23 yd pass from White, Sean (Centers, Adam kick)||7-0|
|2nd - 0:00||RED - Centers, Adam 25 yd field goal||10-0|
|3rd - 10:19||GREEN - Cook, Dalvin 12 yd run (Medley, Aaron kick)||10-7|
|3rd - 5:03||RED - Rudolph, Travis 10 yd pass from O'Connor, Michael (Centers, Adam kick)||17-7|
|4th - 14:11||RED - Noil, Speedy 64 yd pass from Harris, Brandon (Centers, Adam kick)||24-7|
|4th - 11:10||GREEN - Berrios, Braxton 6 yd pass from Peavey, Rafe (Medley, Aaron kick)||24-14|
|4th - 7:48||RED - Fournette, Leonard 36 yd pass from White, Season (Centers, Adam kick)||31-14|
|4th - 6:30||GREEN - Jones, Jeff 18 yd pass from Mahalak, Morgan (Medley, Aaron kick)||31-21|
The highlights of that scoresheet are the two longest touchdown plays—not just by virtue of distance, which played a part, but also by virtue of who recorded them.
The first came from newly minted Texas A&M commit Speedy Noil, who's been hailed as a Tavon Austin-type big-play weapon. He flashed his eponymous speed and burned Team Nitro's secondary down the right sideline, hauling in the catch with outstretched arms before jaunting into the end zone.
The other most memorable score came from No. 1 overall prospect Leonard Fournette, who exploded on back-to-back plays after starting the game slow. First, he made a cross-field cutback to turn a negative play into a 15-yard gain. Immediately after, he burned the defense deep and caught an easy 36-yard score:
That was Fournette's final play as an uncommitted recruit. He pledged his work to the long-favored LSU Tigers before getting back on the field.
|L. Fournette (LSU)||9-43-0||D. Cook (FSU)||8-78-1|
|B. Scarbrough (ALA)||2-16-0||J. Jones (MINN)||6-37-0|
|S. Noil (TA&M)||2-7-0||I. McKenzie (ND)||4-24-0|
|R. Thomas (AUB)||7-3-0||M. Morgan (ORE)||6-22-0|
|S. White (AUB)||1-3-0||W. Speight (MICH)||3-8-0|
|B. Berrios (MIA)||1-1-0|
Dalvin Cook led all rushers with 78 net yards on eight carries, including the only non-passing touchdown of the game to get Team Nitro on the board in the third quarter. Now that he's officially flipped to Florida State, Florida fans were left shaking their heads at their former commit's success.
It's not necessarily all bad, though. The Gators are trying to lure Jeff Jones out of his commitment at Minnesota, and Jones looked every bit as good as Cook on Thursday. If they can indeed convince him to abandon the Gophers, it would be a very nice consolation prize for losing Cook.
Then, obviously, there was Fournette, who led Team Highlight with 43 yards on the ground. Blue-chip Auburn commit Racean Thomas was held in serious check, rushing seven times for an average of 0.8 yards per carry.
|S. White (AUB)||10/12||156-2-0||M. Mahalak (ORE)||6/12||40-1-0|
|M. O'Connor (PSU)||3/6||45-1-0||R. Peavey (ARK)||7/11||73-1-0|
|B. Harris (LSU)||4/5||115-1-0||W. Speight (MICH)||2/6||63-0-1|
|J. Peppers (MICH)||1/1||-2-0-0|
Team Highlight found much more success through the air than Team Nitro, contributing largely to its comfortable margin of victory. Two of its quarterbacks, Sean White and Brandon Harris, passed for more than 100 yards, while Nitro's respective leader, Rafe Peavey, didn't even break 75.
White in particular turned some heads with his performance on Thursday, showing nice rapport with future Iron Bowl rivals like Cameron Sims and Bo Scarbrough, who will face the future Auburn QB as members of the Alabama Crimson Tide. But today they were all on the same team, and it worked.
The only interception of the day came from Michigan commit Wilton Speight, who had a communication breakdown with his intended target and lofted one right into the hands of Adoree' Jackson in the back of the end zone. The lapse cost Team Nitro an early chance at points, which would come back to bite them during a scoreless first half.
|T. Rudolph (FSU)||4-48-1||J. Jones (MINN)||4-35-1|
|S. Noil (TA&M)||3-90-1||E. Lane (FLA)||4-35-0|
|C. Sims (ALA)||3-49-0||B. Berrios (MIA)||3-30-1|
|L. Fournette (LSU)||2-46-1||C. Holmes (ND)||2-20-0|
|B. Scarbrough (ALA)||2-39-0||J. Blazevich (UGA)||2-17-0|
|J. Washington (LSU)||2-36-1||M. Dupre (n/a)||1-37-0|
|C. Godwin (PSU)||1-8-0|
Noil's long touchdown grab highlighted a game-best yardage performance. He finished the afternoon with 90 yards on three receptions, though his team showed incredible balance throwing the football. Of the seven players who caught a pass, six finished with between 36 and 49 receiving yards.
Across the line, blue-chip Florida commit Ermon Lane showcased his skill and finished with four catches for 35 receiving yards. He also laid a vicious block to seal the edge on Cook's touchdown run in the third quarter, altruistically helping his long-time friend find paydirt on the national stage.
Braxton Berrios burned 5-star safety Quin Balding for a six-yard touchdown late in the game, while Malachi Dupre—the only uncommitted skill-position player to show up in the box score—opened the game with a 37-yard catch-and-run on Team Nitro's first drive.
It was their longest offensive play of the game.
Note: All stats courtesy of the official box score (via Intersport):