The most important connection Eric Hoy and Garrett Cloer made during their time on the East squad of the 67th annual N.C. Coaches Association All-Star Football Game wasn’t their two touchdown passes that flipped the score in the East’s favor.
Both claimed the more important connection was the one built off of the field during the five days leading up to the game. Cloer – a 2015 grad from Orange High School – and Hoy – a Clayton grad – roomed together and ate every meal together in the days leading up to the contest at Jamieson Stadium on the campus of Grimsley High, where the East won 27-13 Wednesday night.
They were two close-fitting cogs among a dozen players from the Triangle area under the direction of four area coaches who helped the East reel off 27 unanswered points in the middle of the game.
Cloer and Hoy combined for two TDs – one just before halftime and one on the first drive of the second half that took the East from a 6-0 hole to a 13-6 lead. Hoy finished with 68 yards on four catches and was the game’s Most Valuable Player on offense.
“We’d never met before this week,” said Hoy, a Randolph-Macon recruit. “But we spent every minute we were here together. Roommates, ate every meal together, all of the time we could. We built a great connection, just like so many of the guys on this team.”
Instant friends: Cloer, headed to Cornell for the fall semester, said the connection was important.
“We hit it off right away. It felt like we’d been teammates for a lot longer than just these five days,” Cloer said.
“When you make that connection, it’s a lot easier to play with someone you know and like than it is to play with some random guys you don’t know.”
After Hoy’s 7-yard catch for a TD with 33 seconds left in the first half tied the score, the East put on an All-Star football clinic for almost the entire second half.
“Once we found our groove, we started to click,” Cloer said.
The defense clamped down on the West offense and the East offense executed to near perfection once it took the lead (on Hoy’s 32-yard catch from Cloer early in the third quarter).
With the lead, East coaches Jimmy Williams of West Johnston, Millbrook’s Clarence Inscore, Louisburg’s Chris Lee and South Granville’s Mike Hobgood turned to their running game — and it produced big plays.
A record: Elizabeth City Northeastern quarterback Ge’Dari Liverman capped the second East drive of the second half with a blistering 80-yard TD run on a read-option keeper for a 20-6 lead with 3 minutes, 58 seconds to play in the third.
Liverman’s was the longest scoring run in the 67-year history of the game, breaking a 52-year-old record. Later, he threw a 21-yard TD pass to Matthew Boykin with 3:21 to play in the game to complete a 27-point surge.
“We started turning 3- or 4-yard runs into 7- or 8-yard runs in the second half,” Williams said. “To be successful in an All-Star game like this, you have to be able to run the ball. We were able to do that in the second half and our guys committed to doing it.
“There wasn’t a kid on this team who wasn’t unselfish all week.”
Cloer shines: Cloer finished the night 7-of-14 passing for 106 yards.
“He did a great job,” said South Granville’s Hobgood. “He threw the ball really well. He’s got a great presence. Very smart, a very good leader. He’s got the total package.”
The East lines that controlled the game in the second half featured area players Christian Anumihe of Garner, Markus Crutchfield of Durham Hillside, Matthew Donovan of Heritage, Trayon Smith of Northern Durham and Sam Campbell of West Johnston.
Durham players: The East’s lineup included Hillside defensive lineman Markus Crutchfield (Lenoir Rhyne) and Hornet cornerback Jalon Bethea (N.C. A&T), as well as Northern’s Trayon Smith on the offensive line.
For Bethea, the game required only a short trip to join his all-star teammates at practice. He’s already enrolled at N.C. A&T and has been working out all summer with Aggie teammates to get ready for fall practices.
“This was good,” Bethea said. “It was nice to have one last high school game.”
Bethea led the East in tackles during the first half, with four stops, and ended up with five tackles total. West Johnston linebacker Cameron Williams made six tackles and the East squad’s only sack. Fayetteville Britt’s Antwone Harper, with a game-high 10 tackles, was the defensive MVP.
Close, but ... Playing for the West all-stars, Northwood’s Jared Worley had a 27-yard reception midway of the second quarter to set up the game’s first TD. Worley, with his former coach Bill Hall watching from the stands, made a leaping catch inside the 5-yard line and struggled for the endzone before ending up at the 2.
“I caught the ball and saw the ‘G’ (of the goaline) and was just praying I could make into the endzone,” Worley said. “But was just a couple of yards short.”
Despite the West team’s loss, Worley, who hopes to walk-on to the North Carolina varsity in the fall, found the entire experience worthwhile.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Worley said.”It was great to be out here on this field with these guys. It was fun.”
W.E. Warnock of the Chapel Hill News contributed to this report