Staff Photo: John Bohn Team Small's Zach Barnes (73), right, and Team Simpson's Cam Lewis (20) battle for a fumble during the Gwinnett County Touchdown Club's 2012 Rivalries of Gwinnett All-Star Game played on Friday night at Peachtree Ridge High School.
SUWANEE -- All things considered, it should come as no surprise that the sixth edition of the Rivalries of Gwinnett All-Star Football Game was somewhat of a sloppy affair.
But neither the cold, nor limited practice sessions, nor a long layoff for some of the players -- all of which resulted more than a dozen overall fumbles and a combined seven turnovers -- could dampen the enthusiasm of the participants.
In the end, one of those turnovers -- a fumble recovery by Parkview's Ronnie Bailey -- helped set up Central Gwinnett quarterback Eman Westmoreland's 8-yard touchdown run with 2:47 remaining, which lifted Team Jess Simpson past Team John Small 23-20 Friday night at frigid Peachtree Ridge Community Stadium.
"All-Star games typically are (sloppy)," said Buford coach Jess Simpson, who coached the winning team. "Plus, you factor in (Friday) night was the coldest (night) of the (season so far), and that we had only two practices. And some of these kids haven't practiced in five weeks. But you know, overall, the kids had a blast, it was a competitive game and the good guys won."
Good-natured ribbing from his counterpart aside, South Gwinnett coach John Small also had an enjoyable evening with his team.
"This game's always exciting," Small said. "It never goes how you think it's going to go. They made a big play at the end. ... But the kids played hard on both sides. It's a fun game."
After an interception by Shon Akins on the game's second play -- the first of two picks by the Norcross defensive back on the night -- Team Small had a little fun with some razzle-dazzle when it took over at the Team Simpson 34-yard line.
South's Jordan Ramey lined up as a receiver and took a pitch and before pulling up and finding a wide-open Comets teammate L.J. Gainey in the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown pass, giving Team Small a 7-0 lead just 53 seconds after the opening kickoff.
"We said we were going to score on the first play of the game, and we did," Small said with a laugh.
But after Team Simpson answered on its next possession with a 33-yard field goal from Peachtree Ridge's Connor Rouleau that made the score 7-3 with 7:31 left in the first quarter, there was no further scoring in the first half.
The second half, however, was a different story.
Team Small got things started when South's Bernard Morrison returned the second-half kickoff 67 yards to the Team Simpson 30-yard line.
Three plays later, Grayson's Wayne Gallman scored from 3 yards out to extend the Team Small lead to 14-3 just 1:08 into the third quarter.
But Team Simpson quickly answered after starting at the Team Small 49-yard line following an attempted onside kick that was touched before it traveled 10 yards.
Three plays later, Westmoreland found Julian Williams in the flat, and the Collins Hill receiver dashed in from 34-yards out to cut the deficit to 14-10 with 9:59 left in the third quarter.
Team Simpson then got field goals for 30 and 22 yards from Rouleau over the remainder of the period to take a 16-14 lead before turnovers in the fourth quarter proved decisive.
The first was Akins' second interception of the night, which set Team Small up at its own 46 with 9:54 remaining.
Gallman, who ran for 87 of his team-high 97 yards in the second half, then busted off four runs of 7 yards or more, including a nifty 12-yard TD run that vaulted Team Small ahead at 20-16 with 7:53 left.
But Bailey's fumble recovery at the Team Small 13-yard line with 4:05 put Team Simpson back in business again.
And on third and 5 from the 8, Westmoreland, who finished the night 12 of 17 for 123 yards, a TD and two interceptions, did some damage with his feet this time.
The Black Knights' signal caller saw a seam up the middle and barreled his way into the end zone with 2:47 left to put Team Simpson up for good at 23-20.
"It means a lot to end my high school career scoring," Westmoreland said. "It just felt great being here and being able to play with these high-level players. ... It was pretty tough (to get going), but once we got into it, it was like second nature. It started flowing, started clicking."
And North's C.J. James sealed the win for Team Simpson with his diving interception with 1:44 left.
Among the other standouts in the game were Mill Creek's Jacorey Lewis, who led all rushers with 103 yards on 21 carries for Team Simpson, Williams, who had five receptions for 55 yards, Gainey, who hauled in three catches for 59 yards, J.R. Jones of Peachtree Ridge, who recorded two sacks and tipped a pass for Team Small, and Grayson linemen Jack Banda and Zach Barnes, who each had 1 sacks for Team Small.