California FB stars fall to Florida

Two words adequately describe the rubber match of the CaliFlorida Bowl III high school football all-star game held Wednesday afternoon: "no punts."

In a game chock full of big plays, big hits and big mistakes, the visitors from Florida beat the California squad 34-24 in front of an estimated crowd of 3,000 at El Camino College in Torrance and showed that they don't just win at the college level, they've got the high school scene pretty well figured out, too.

Using a combination of bruising power running behind a line averaging 290 pounds and an accurate passing game from quarterbacks Gavin Dickey of Tallahassee Lincoln and Dan Shula of Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, the Florida squad controlled the offensive line of scrimmage while benefitting from scores on defense and special teams.

California jumped out on top on a very strange play, a trick play you'll only see at the high school level. Ben Olson from Thousand Oaks, who shined on 10 of 11 passing with 118 yards and a touchdown, threw a middle screen toss to tight end Marcedes Lewis of Long Beach Poly, who, since he was still behind the line of scrimmage, was able to heave the ball 43 yards downfield to a wide open James Finley (L.A. Manual Arts).

The conversion by Laguna Beach kicker Todd Merz put the home team up for all of 11 seconds, as the following kickoff was returned 85 yards by Devin Hester of Riviera Beach Suncoast.

"Coach (head coach David Wilson of Tallahassee Lincoln) told me to hit it hard and once I hit the hole and made my first move it was wide open," he said.

Hester, who played played cornerback and had three tackles and an interception, was voted the offensive player of the game because of his quick strike on special teams.

On the next possession, quarterback Drew Olsen of Piedmont, Calif. took the California team to the Florida six but was intercepted in the end zone by Edmond Miles of Tallahassee Godby, who returned the ball to the seven.

Florida marched downfield and, aided by the first of four California's personal foul penalties, punched the ball in from the six as James Jackson ran off tackle for the first of his two touchdowns.

A 31-yard Merz field goal pulled California within four points halfway through the second quarter, but that was as close as the team would get.

Shula completed four of five passes, included an 11-yard fade pass to James White, also of the state champions from Lincoln, to finish the scoring for the half at 21-10.

Florida used its first possession of the third quarter to punch the ball downfield via Shula's short accurate passes and effective runs by Tremaine McCullum of Miami Southridge. Jackson scored from the five and a missed PAT extended Florida's lead to 27-10.

California answered right back on a drive dominated by a trio of teammates from Long Beach Poly. Safety Darnell Bing returned the kickoff to the Florida 42, Marcedes Lewis ran 16 yards on a swing route from Ben Olson and Hershel Dennis ran for 17 yards, the last on a one yard burst up the middle to pull the home team to within 10 points at 27-17.

However, Florida used an eight minute drive that, despite ending on a fourth down incompletion in the end zone by Dickey, all but took the momentum away from California.

Three plays later, Drew Olsen was sacked on his 24-yard line by Elvis Dummerville of Miami Jackson and Baraka Atkins of Sarasota Booker. On the next play, an errant shotgun snap sailed over Olsen's head and Atkins picked it up on the four and rumbled in for the game-clinching score that put Florida ahead 34-17 with only 5:27 left in the game.

Ben Olson led California to the final points of the night on a 23-yard pass to Thousand Oaks battery mate Dave Anderson and a 26-yard scoring strike to Finley on the next play. Florida recovered an on-side kick and ran out the clock. According to players on both sides, the key to the game was Florida's team speed.

"They had more speed than we did and made a lot more big plays," said California defensive lineman Fred Matua from L.A. Banning. "We kind of played conservative and they were getting big chunks of yards against us."

Terrell Walden, the defensive back from Miami Edison who had four tackles and a pass deflection, shared similar opinions.

"California had some good speed out there but nobody could matchup with myself or Devin Hester when it came to speed," he said.

Kneeling on his sideline as the clock ticked to zero, Dickey reflected on the most important aspect of the week, the kids at the Ronald McDonald House who are the beneficiaries of the game.

"That was my favorite part of the trip," he said. "Going there and meeting the kids and being around them gave me a great feeling inside. I was glad I was able to come because of that."

Final stats for the game were actually close as California had 15 first downs to Florida's 14 and California had 322 yards offense to Florida's 324.

Dennis was California's top rusher with 15 carries for 72 yards. Mission Viejo's Robbie Dubois added 31 yards on six attempts. Finley was California's top receiver with five catches for 102 yards. Lewis caught four for 33.

California won the first game of the series at the Rose Bowl in the summer of 2000, but lost last summer at Santa Barbara. This year's game was the first of its kind to be held in January, just weeks after the end of the season.

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