As quickly as Evan Shirreff’s final high school football game began, it had ended with a performance worthy of any All-Star contest.
The Jefferson senior threw for 269 yards, including two second-half touchdowns, to lead the East squad to a comprehensive 28-3 victory Friday night at City Park Stadium in the 2nd annual FCA East-West Football Classic.
East Hall’s Juwan Merritt scored the go-ahead touchdown from a yard out on his team’s second drive of the night before Shirreffs found fellow Jefferson standout TJ Skelton and Banks County’s Austin Segars for twin scoring grabs to break open a late lead.
Shirreffs, who has offers from Virginia Military Institute and Columbia University, said he’ll add the night’s performance on his highlight reel.
“We had some rhythm going,” he said, surrounded by West and East players alike. “It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, but after that, we got to know the guys and have friendships I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
The game was the culmination of a week’s worth of practices, speakers and camaraderie orchestrated by the local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. After years of hard-nosed competition between the schools, players said they enjoyed getting to compete with old adversaries.
“Playing with all the guys I grew up with, it meant a lot to me,” said Chestatee running back Tray Bryant, who led the West with 57 rushing yards. “I got around good players and good things happened.”
Merritt (4 rushes, 17 yards) finished off a six-play, 60-yard drive for the East squad with his 1-yard rush into the end zone in the first quarter.
Gainesville High’s Mikey Gonzalez (9-of-18 passing, 66 yards) had an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jackson County’s Caleb Smith waved off late in the second for an offensive pass interference flag that knocked the West team back to a 3rd and 25. West Hall’s Bradley Hodgson knocked home a 31-yard field goal from the right hash to score his team’s lone points of the game soon after.
“It’s definitely great to have one last time out here, especially at City Park,” Gonzalez said. “It’s what we live for these Friday nights, to see these people and play at Bobby Gruhn.”
Despite going 8 for 17 in the first half, Shirreffs built up a head of steam to enter the half and picked up three consecutive first downs before picking out Skelton (7 receptions, 199 yards) from 47 yards out for his first score.
His next bomb to Skelton spanned 61 yards down the middle of Bobby Gruhn Field and set the East team at the 11 yard line. Two plays later, Riverside Military Acadmey’s Brandon Grant (10 rushes, 57 yards) was wriggling into the end zone for a 21-3 advantage. Shirreffs completed 16 of 27 passes on the night.
If the West squad was expected to quit after that, North Hall’s Bobby Mendenhall never got the message, The linebacker burst through the East squad’s defensive line on the ensuing extra point, breaking the night’s unwritten rule to not block any of the kicks.
“We got to have a little fun out here,” Mendenhall said with a big grin plastered on his face. “We’re not here to give up. That’s the West side spirit here. This squad had fun.”
Shirreffs picked up his final score with just 1:10 remaining when he found Banks County’s Segars from 24 yards out with man coverage on the left edge of the end zone.
After a West win in last year’s inaugural East-West Classic, the series is now tied 1-1.
For most, it was a final chance to put on football pads. A few students were already looking to the future.
“Baseball season is just around the corner now,” Gonzalez said. “The high school season passes so quick. You blink once and it’s over.”