Michael Billings had already made his presence felt.
And then the Georgetown senior did it again.
Billings’ special teams touchdown with less than two minutes to play pushed the South squad to a 23-18 win in the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Bowl, North vs. South all-star game at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium.
His second and game-winning touchdown came after Myrtle Beach’s Kyle Belack blocked a punt. Billings was trailing the play, picked the ball up from seven yards out and walked in for the score.
“On that last play, I knew Belack was going to block that punt because he blocked a bunch of punts during the season,” Billings said. “It’s always good to be a ball hawk and be in the right place at the right time.”
It was a prime-time ending for two players who next year will be heading to NCAA Division-I programs. Belack is graduating early to enroll at the University of Ohio; Billings is firmly committed to Coastal Carolina.
It was also the final in what was an above-average day for local players in the 67th annual all-star event.
Billings, who also had a defensive touchdown in the second quarter off a North fumble deep in its own territory, finished with four total tackles while playing cornerback.
In addition to the blocked punt, Belack had a 24-yard punt return and led all receivers with four receptions for 71 yards. Belack, the area’s leading receiver the last two years at Carolina Forest and Myrtle Beach, had blocked four punts during the 2014 season.
“For two Grand Strand players to do that, especially in a local all-star game, it’s insane,” Belack said. “That’s great.”
South coach Jackie Hayes said the deciding moments of the game backed up his decision to include 16 players from the Florence and Myrtle Beach areas on his 44-man roster.
“I got a little bit of criticism for it kind being a Pee Dee/beach-strong team,” said Hayes, who coached Dillon to its third consecutive state title this year. “But I’ll take those guys. Belack, Billings [had] big games today. Those are tremendous players. They should be proud and their programs should be proud.”
The victory was just the second for the South in the last 11 years. The North holds a 38-27-2 all time lead in the series.
Grand Strand roundup
Besides Belack and Billings, three other Grand Strand areas participated in Saturday’s game.
Myrtle Beach linebacker Marcus Chestnut, Loris defensive tackle Jordan Hemingway and North Myrtle Beach’s Colby Gore were also selected. Chestnut finished the game with a pair of tackles.
Gore was featured early, starting at receiver and punt returner, although it didn’t show up in the final stats. The South squad went deep to him twice in the early going, although he wasn’t able to haul in either attempt.
Most valuable players
Quarterback Nick Jones (South Florence) and defensive lineman LaSamuel Davis (Bamberg-Ehrhardt) were named the South’s MVPs, while the North selected A.C. Flora receiver Denzel Johnson and Fairfield Central defensive back Shadarius Hopkins.
Jones, a name well-known to area football fans through his team’s Region VI-AAAA schedule, threw for 156 yards and a touchdown and an interception while going 11-of-20. Davis finished with seven total tackles, 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.
Hopkins had a late interception for the North squad. Johnson scored the first points for the North on a 47-yard touchdown reception in the opening quarter and ended with three catches for 58 yards.
Dutch Fork’s Colburn wins Mr. Football Award
Dutch Fork running back Matthew Colburn was named South Carolina’s Mr. Football for the 2014 season during halftime of the game.
Colburn rushed for 1,264 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior and 4,997 yards and 84 scores during his three years as a starter. He helped the Silver Foxes to the Class AAAA, Division I championship in 2013 and a state runner-up spot this year.
“It’s just crazy to me,” Colburn said. “It feels like a dream to be mentioned with such high-caliber players who are doing what I’m doing at a professional level. It’s crazy to be mentioned among that group of guys.”
Colburn beat out Summerville offensive lineman Zack Bailey, Wren quarterback Kelly Bryant, Northwestern receiver/quarterback Dupree Hart and Dorman receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. The Louisville commitment is the first Dutch Fork player to win the award since its inception in 1995. All five players are either signed or verbally committed to NCAA Division-I schools, with Hart heading to College of Charleston to play baseball.
The Grand Strand has not had a player among the finalists since Everett Golson in 2010, and the area’s only winner was Seahawk quarterback J.D. Melton (2004).
S - Marquice Elmore 50 rec from Nick Jones (Luke Carter kick)
N - Denzel Johnson 47 rec from Tommy Sanders (conv. failed)
S - Michael Billings 2 fumble return (Carter kick)
S - Safety
N - Sanders 1 run (kick blocked)
N - DeShaw Andrews 9 run (kick blocked)
S - Billings 7 blocked punt return (Carter kick)
North - Desmond Anderson 8-23; Brandon Croutch 4-17; Isaiah Hill 4-7. South - Jakayus Leaphart 15-28; Trayvon Thomas 7-10.
North - Tommy Sanders 10-19-1, 174 yards; DeShaw Andrews 9-16-1, 121 yards. South - Nick Jones 11-20-1, 156 yards; London Johnson 5-15-1, 52 yards.
North - Jalen Wilkes 3-66; Kyron Shrouder 3-62; Denzel Johnson 3-58; Jay Hood 3-54. South - Kyle Belack 4-71; Marquice Elmore 1-50; Kameron Brown 3-33; Leaphart 3-29.