In an all-star game like this where rules restrict blitzing by a defense, the pressure applied to offensive linemen is restricted to the pass rush of the front four. With five to block four, a center like Alex Fletcher is often applying double-teams against defensive tackles, and then releasing out into the second level of the defense in search of linebackers. You saw big #71 indeed running around in open space in run blocking situations and downfield in lead blocks. But the plays that showcased his explosiveness and strength came in run blocking.
In the first quarter, the East took the ball the length of the field on their first drive, picking up chunk yardage on passing plays but going to all running plays in the red zone. Fletcher pancaked the number two defensive tackle in the country, Franklin Okam, on a 1st and 5 run at the 12-yardline. The next play was a 2nd and 1 run for the East, which saw Fletcher and his right guard double-team Louisiana standout DT Nader Abdallah and move him back five yards to open the way for running back Brian Toal to pick up six yards and a first down. The very next play on 1st and Goal, Fletcher pancaked the #9 defensive tackle in the America, Louisiana's Darryl Richard, which once again led the way for Toal - this time for a touchdown.
Early in the second quarter the East was faced with a 4th and 7 on the West 37-yardline, when a quarterback keeper was called for the shifty Xavier Lee. Lee took the ball up the middle and ran right through the lane vacated by Fletcher's block of Marlon Favorite, yet another defensive tackle from Louisiana. The block and hole helped Lee scramble 18 yards for a huge first down pickup. A fumbled snap from Fletcher to Lee a few plays later stalled the drive, but not before the East added a field goal to take a 10-7 lead.
The East squad soon found themselves with the ball again and drove for their second touchdown and third score of the half. The final play came on a run by Toal from the 13-yardline, which he cut back through a hole Fletcher created with a block once again on Favorite, pushing him back away from the play. That block also prevented playmaking DE Jeff Schweiger from getting near the runner. That pushed the East to a 17-7 lead, though the West answered with a quick score in the final 10 seconds of the half to close the game back to 17-14.
The East took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove the length of the field, with the big play a throw to Lee (then at WR) at the nine-yardline. Fletcher twice pancacked West defensive tackles in the following three plays, once on Favorite and the other a lightning quick takedown of 315-pound Michigan commit Alan Branch on the 3rd and Goal bootleg that scored. The play was a "Charlie block" where Fletcher as the center was asked to take out the three-technique lined up against a guard, who would pull on the play. It was a common sight throughout the game and a source of several of his eight pancake blocks.
"The coaches had a lot of faith in me that I could explode off the ball quickly to fill that [vacated] hole and take down the defender," the New Yorker comments.
That score pushed the lead to 24-14, and each team exchanged touchdowns to put the tally at 31-21. For good measure, Fletcher used a fourth quarter scoring drive to not only help his East team put away the game, but also to show his speed and conditioning to block downfield. He ran 30 yards as the lead blocker on sweep by Virginia Tech commit George Bell, and finished the play taking out cornerback and Oklahoma commit Lendy Holmes. The very next play was a 31-yard screen pass for a touchdown to Ohio standout Raymond Williams. Fletcher was downfield providing blocking for Williams, and in the process he took down Favorite.
That touchdown moved the East to a 38-21 lead, which would grow to 45-21. The Stanford center commit played every snap of the game until the final mop-up series for the East in the final two minutes of the game, at which time the East head coach took Fletcher out to protect him against some attacks he was taking below his knees from West defenders.
"I worked hard this week and proved myself to every one of these guys," Fletcher says of his San Antonio experience. "I think I opened some eyes. I think my stock may have gone down because I committed so early, and I just wanted to prove myself in front of the whole country... I just can't wait to get out to Stanford and compete."
The game was more than just a showcase and honor for Fletcher, it was also a chance for him to gain experience battling some of the nation's most elite defensive linemen. He was complimentary of several of the DTs from the West he faced this day, but named one most formidable opponent.
"Marlon Favorite is a really shifty guy - they say he's the next Warren Sapp, so I had to stay low on him," the future Stanford center describes. "He was the toughest guy for me to block today with how quick he was. He came up to me after the game and told me I was the best offensive lineman he had ever gone up against, which was a huge compliment."
"Darryl Richard comes off the ball really hard - he has a lot of power," Fletcher also notes. "He was a different kind of guy to block than Favorite, but you can't help but have fun going up against guys like that."
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