CONWAY — The Rogers Heritage quarterback-running back combo of Josh Qualls and Brandon Gates turned in a pair of impressive performances on Friday night.
The duo combined for three touchdowns in the West’s 23-14 win over the East in the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star Game at Estes Stadium.
The win and the experience as a whole meant a lot to Pine Bluff’s Dasmine Johnson, who was voted outstanding offensive lineman for the West.
“It is only a one-time chance,” he said. “That’s all I can say.
“I had to represent the Z’s and that’s what I did.”
Qualls earned the game’s MVP award, finishing a remarkable 25 for 31 for 222 yards and a touchdown. Gates finished with 49 yards rushing on just eight carries, 48 yards receiving on four catches and 52 yards on his only kickoff return. He also had two rushing touchdowns.
On its first drive, Gates finished off an eight-play, 43-yard drive with a 2-yard run. Later in the quarter, Qualls connected with Camden Fairview’s Deion Holliman for a 2-yard score and a 14-0 lead, which the West took into the second quarter.
Drake Jones of Warren started at quarterback for the East but struggled, going 4 for 13 for 34 yards with an interception and two sacks. His high school and all-star teammate Kendrick Newton fared better at his linebacker position, finishing with five tackles to tie for the team-high.
“Getting the start,” Jones said, “it felt real good.
“Like I said, I wish I could have played better with the start.”
The West might have dominated the opening 12 minutes, but turnovers in the second quarter helped the East tie the score heading into halftime.
Forrest City’s Jaylin Johnson returned his interception 29 yards but couldn’t quite turn it into a pick-six. The East, though, had to wait just 42 seconds to get on the board.
Dillion Turner of Salem hit John Williams from 11 yards out. Little Rock Catholic’s Andrew Hugen had his extra point blocked to keep the score 14-6. However, due to an all-star game rule, the East was given the choice of kicking off or receiving following the touchdown, because the team trailed by 8 or more points.
The East couldn’t take advantage of the rule and ended up going three and out, but picked off Morrilton’s Toney Hawkins for the second time to set up the tying score.
Following the interception by East Poinsett County’s Byron Scales, it took the East just two plays to find the end zone. Turner finished off the 55-play, 19-second drive with a 7-yard toss to Kristen Crite of Newport. Turner ran in the two-point conversion himself to send the game into the break knotted 14-14.
“Our second team, they stepped up big time,” Jones said of the comeback. “They scored a couple of touchdowns for us and they brought us back in the game.”
Coming out of halftime, though, the West was back to its first-quarter self. Gates finished off the team’s opening drive with his second rushing score of the game, this one from 7 yards out just four minutes into the third quarter.
The momentum continued when the West pinned the East inside the 1-yard line with a punt midway though the quarter.
Two plays later, Watson Chapel’s Joshua Harris, who finished with a joint game-high six tackles, was credited with taking down an East ballcarrier in the end zone for a safety. Harris’ big play gave the West a two-possession lead at 23-14 and ended up setting the final margin.
— Sam Pierce contributed to this report