By Ashley Starnes – Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas North Carolina Student Correspondent
The ball game on Saturday, December 21 brought an end to a week filled with fun, food, and football. The South Carolina Sandlappers defeated the North Carolina Tarheels 28-23, but the game was certainly not won without a fight.
The Sandlappers were on fire from the start. Just over a minute into the first quarter, South Carolina quarterback and Oklahoma State commitment Mason Rudolph threw the first touchdown pass. By the end of the quarter, the Sandlappers were up 14-0. The South Carolina defense held strong throughout the first half, maintaining their 14-0 lead and allowing the North Carolina offense to gain only 26 yards.
The game shifted in the third quarter when the North Carolina Tar Heels started to show up. The Tar Heels started with the ball. Their first few drives were rounded out with several successful passes by quarterback Jalan McClendon, a North Carolina State University commitment, as well as carries by safety Emmanuel Moseley and running back Elijah Hood. With almost ten minutes left in the quarter, Hood, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill commitment, ran the ball into the end zone, bringing the score to 14-7. North Carolina punter/kicker Freeman Jones returned the ball to South Carolina, and that is when the game really started to turn around.
South Carolina fumbled the ball on the return, and North Carolina recovered it to regain possession. “Recovering the kick off after the opening drive score was a huge momentum change,” claims Jones, also a commitment to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
North Carolina had possession of the ball for the majority of the third quarter. The Tar Heels’ offense made their way all the way to the 6-yard line, where they attempted a field goal. The kick was good, but South Carolina still had a four-point lead at the end of the quarter.
North Carolina began the fourth quarter much like they began the third one: with another touchdown by Elijah Hood. Hood’s touchdown along with Jones’s extra point put North Carolina in the lead for the first time in the game. The score was 17-14, North Carolina, but South Carolina would soon respond.
After the Sandlappers regained possession, they prepared to score. A quick pass from quarterback Jacob Park, a commitment to the University of Georgia, to wide receiver Blake Bone, a commitment to the University of Kentucky, brought South Carolina to the 2-yard line. As the suspense built, running back Joe Blue, a commitment to the University of South Carolina, carried the ball into the end zone, stealing the lead back from the Tar Heels. The extra point was good; the score was 21-17 Sandlappers. However, there were still over twelve minutes left in the game.
For the next several minutes, the tension between the two teams grew. On their next several possessions, neither team gained enough yards to score. Finally, North Carolina had a breakthrough.
It started after South Carolina returned the ball to the Tar Heels. Wide receiver Dominique Heath, a commitment to Kansas State University, received the punt and carried it all the way to the 49-yard line. After several first downs, the team had advanced to the red zone. They were at first at first and goal at the 6-yard line when Hood pummeled through South Carolina’s defensive line to score a touchdown for the Tar Heels. Jones’s kick for the extra point was blocked, but North Carolina still had a 2-point lead. The score was 23-21 Tar Heels. South Carolina only had about two minutes to react, and they did just that.
The last two minutes of the game was a battle on both fronts. South Carolina’s offense, which had scored so quickly in the first quarter, was now fighting against the clock. Many of their possessions took them all the way to third down before securing a first, but nonetheless they inched their way down the field. With thirty-four seconds on the clock, the Sandlappers were at fourth and one on the 27-yard line. Seven seconds later, they had a fourth down conversion on the 21-yard line. To the delight of the fans sporting all shades of Sandlapper red, Mason Rudolph then shot a bullet to the far left side of the end zone, where wide receiver Shaquille Davidson, a commitment to the University of South Carolina, was anticipating a reception. As he secured the ball in his hands, the crowd went wild. Watching Alex Spence’s field goal attempt drift through the yellow posts, North Carolina’s side cheered for their defense but then stood still, temporarily shocked as South Carolina’s 21 became a 28 on the scoreboard. North Carolina’s offense, on the other hand, broke from the stupor and took the field ready to execute.
With just sixteen seconds left on the clock, Spence, a commitment to Clemson University, returned the ball to North Carolina. The Tar Heels began their possession on the 30-yard line. There were nine seconds left in the game.
North Carolina’s first attempt at a first down was unsuccessful. They repositioned themselves back on the 30-yard line. The Tar Heels had one second- one play- to score a touchdown. For many, the play would be the last of their high school careers.
Evaluating the situation, North Carolina seemed to have only one choice- a Hail Mary. The Tar Heels’ offense kept their quarterback protected, enabling McClendon to launch a 65-yard pass down the field.
The pass was incomplete. The game was over. The South Carolina Sandlappers walked away with their 44th win in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas with a final score of 28-23, but the North Carolina Tar Heels did not go down without a fight. Of course, it must be remembered that the true winners of the game were the children at the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Collectively, this year’s game raised $1,437,720.13 for the hospital. The money will go towards providing care to burned and disabled children regardless of their ability to pay.
The football players gave the game all they had, but the entire week had a profound impact on them. Tyler Bray, a running back for the Tar Heels, deemed the experience “fantastic.” Thomas Ferguson, a defensive lineman for the Tar Heels, attests, “The Shrine Bowl opens your eyes [and teaches you] to be grateful for what you have… We visited the Shriners Hospital and saw the kids’ faces glowing just for us high school football players to come and speak with them… The Shrine Bowl opens your eyes to many aspects of your life that you can take for granted.”
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be able to play in the Shrine Bowl,” Shawn Best, one of the Tar Heels’ offensive linemen, adds. “It’s an honor.”
The 77th Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas- and the incredible week that preceded it- will not soon be forgotten.