Fleming's day propels North

The North wins 35-31 despite Florida running back Ran Carthon leading the South with 73 yards.


Published: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 12:58 a.m.
THE VILLAGES - If you build it, even temporarily, they will come.
That much was proven when an overflow crowd flocked to a reconfigured polo stadium to support The Villages Gridiron Classic, a sixth-year college football all-star game being played for the first time in the popular retirement community after a move from Orlando.
Rain-hindered second-half play, but did little to dampen the spirits of the more than 12,000 fans who packed temporary bleachers to watch the North rally to beat the South, 35-31, in a nationally televised game on Saturday afternoon.
"I don't think they'll let me buy (property) for a few more years, but I really like it here," Georgia and South squad coach Mark Richt said. "It's a great community and this game coming here is a great idea. We had kids from all over the nation, and we had fans from all over the nation. It was just a natural."
An ESPN crew featuring Bill Curry and Chris Spielman and the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders added to the upbeat festivities, as did Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti, whose "Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis" was the game's chief beneficiary.
The score was tied at 7, 14 and 21 before the South opened up a 31-21 lead midway through the third quarter. Troy Fleming, who set records with 19 carries and 101 yards, erased the 10-point deficit by scoring the game's final two touchdowns, securing game MVP honors in the process.
"I really thought it was an entertaining football game," said Wisconsin and North squad coach Barry Alvarez. "I thought the kids really competed hard. When you have a game like this that doesn't really mean anything, it's easy just to pack it in sometimes, but we had a lot of guys that really made some hay for themselves."
Quarterbacks Nathan Chandler (Iowa) and Jim Sorgi (Wisconsin) combined to throw for 283 yards on 15-for-22 passing, with a touchdown apiece, and kept the North within striking distance until Fleming, one of the game's geographical misfits, could deliver the knockout punch late.
Down 31-28, and with the football on its own 17, the North squad used only six plays to move 83 yards. Sorgi was 4-for-4 for 72 yards and Fleming rushing twice for 11 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown on a 7-yard run with 7:24 remaining.
Without Fleming's late outburst, the MVP honor may have been awarded to Florida running back Ran Carthon, who gained 73 yards on only seven carries and scored the game's opening touchdown on a 1-yard, first-quarter plunge.
Carthon, who gained 1,353 yards and scored 11 touchdowns during his collegiate career, had the game's longest run with a 54-yard burst to the North 15 in the third quarter. One play later, Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord zig-zagged 15 yards around right end for a touchdown that gave the South a 31-21 lead.
"I was talking to my agent and he said 'you know, this is the first bite of the apple'," said Carthon, a Key West native and son of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator and ex-NFL back Maurice Carthon. "He said the second bite of the apple would be the (Indianapolis scouting) combine, and the third bite will be the 'Pro Day' at Florida.
"It was just great to maybe open the eyes of some scouts, give them something to go by going into the combine. I never really had as good a week of practice ever. I guess maybe some of that is being motivated by the scouts being there, knowing I could get a chance at that next level."
"It was great to cap off that great week of practice by being able to do something in the game."
Pittsburgh running back Brandon Miree scored the North's first touchdown on a 4-yard run, and Virginia Tech tight end Keith Willis and Illinois fullback Carey Davis scored North touchdowns on 12- and 6-yard passes from Sorgi and Chandler, respectively, to repeatedly tie a game that went to halftime at 21-all.
McNeese State fullback Luke Lawton scored from a yard away on the final play of the first quarter to give the South a 14-7 edge, one play after USF linebacker Maurice Jones forced and recovered a North squad fumble.

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