Led by two interceptions returned for touchdowns, the West All-Stars came away with a 26-9 win in the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star Football Game. A year after the offense stole the show in a 62-23 affair, the game was a stark contrast, indeed.
The defensive prowess didn't bode well for those that came out to watch a pair of Arkansas signees on the offensive side of the ball. Harrison tight end Austin Tate finished the night with five catches for 31 yards for the West and Helena-West Helena running back Turell Williams totaled just one run for two yards and a catch for one yard for the East.
Despite low statistical numbers, both players said they were happy with their performances.
"I did what I came to do," Tate said, "and that was to work on my blocking and just get better. It was a work week I got in before summer camp. I've got a lot to work on; I need to get bigger, stronger and faster. Blocking right now is my main goal and I feel like I did an OK job, but I've got a lot of improvement (to make)."
While several high school seniors opted to skip the event this year, Tate said he took the opportunity to play against better competition than he had ever faced.
"Across the board I couldn't ask for better teammates than I had," Tate said. "The East All-Stars gave us all they had. It was just a great ordeal to be out here and be on the same field with all these guys.
"When I was asked to play in the game there was some concern on my part whether or not I could play because of my other commitments. But I called and asked the coaches and they told me it was fine and they wanted me to play. I kind of viewed it as them seeing it as a week for me to get better coming into two-a-days this fall."
Williams, an Arkansas signee who will play at Butler County (Kan.) Community College in the fall, said he had second thoughts about playing in the game at first.
"It was an honor just to be selected. Coming from my hometown we've never had two people selected for the All-Star Game and we've never had a coach selected," said Williams, who played alongside high school teammate Justin Hawkins and for coach Russell Smith in the game. "It was just an honor for me back home to be remembered to go up and play. At least I did get to get the chance to play.
"It was a fun experience. I enjoyed it overall."
Perhaps most enjoyable for Tate and Williams was the friendship they forged during the week.
"Austin's a cool person," Williams said. "I can't wait to get back up here. He seems like the type of person I can mingle with. He's a really nice kid and I can relate with him."
Both Tate and Williams sustained minor injuries in the contest. Tate came off the field in the third quarter with a neck stinger, but returned shortly after. Williams suffered a high ankle sprain late in the game, but said he expects to be fine in a short time.
Tate, who has been working out on the UA campus with Razorback strength and conditioning coaches, said he could feel the new-found conditioning coming in handy. Temperatures in Bentonville were in the 90s at kick-off and the 80s by the time the game ended nearly three hours later.
"Conditioning helped me out a whole bunch this week in the heat," Tate said. "I was already used to the weather."
The game, which is usually held at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, was moved to Bentonville's Tiger Stadium to comply with surface installation inside the Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Bentonville coach Barry Lunney Sr. said it was a joy to be able to showcase the Tigers' multi-million dollar facility, built in 2005.
"I'm certainly pleased that we have the facility to be able to host," Lunney said. "The fact that we were able to bring kids and coaches from all over the state around here made it even more special for me because I know so many of these coaches. We were glad to be able to do it; there's no doubt about that."
Lunney was an assistant on the West squad and had the opportunity to coach Tate all week. The veteran coach said he liked what he saw out of the tight end.
"He was excellent," said Lunney, who has won a combined five state championships at Bentonville and Fort Smith Southside. "As I told so many of these guys, I told Austin he's got the frame, he's got outstanding hands, he's a smart player and the thing that makes this week so special is Austin – like so many of these football players – is an outstanding football player, but he's a better person. I'm proud I got to know him and I know the university and the fans are going to enjoy him for the next four to five years."
Austin Tate hauls in a 15-yard catch in the first quarter of Friday night's AHSCA All-Star Game in Bentonville.
A first quarter pass intended for Tate is knocked away by Mountain Home's Zach Hawthorne.
Tate finished the night with five catches for 31 yards.
Turell Williams lines up at running back in the first quarter.
Williams, who will play at Butler County Community College next season, finished the night with just three total yards of offense after suffering a high ankle sprain.
Springdale receiver and UA Pine Bluff signee LaDarius Ecwood hauls in a touchdown pass in the first quarter.
Eckwood is the nephew of Arkansas great Jerry Eckwood.
Pine Bluff Dollarway running back and Ole Miss signee Jesse Grandy returns a punt in the third quarter.
Pulaski Academy quarterback and Kent State signee Spencer Keith started the game for the West All-Stars, who finished the week's competition 9-0.
West assistant coach Barry Lunney Sr. talks to his team during the second quarter. Lunney is the father of former Razorback starting quarterback Barry Lunney Jr.
Photos by Marc F. Henning