Okoye Houston wanted to forget most of his role in the first half of the 62nd annual North-South All-Star Game.
The Woodmont defensive back and member of the North squad was flagged for a late hit after he delivered a helmet shot to Airport's William Murden when the quarterback was already on the ground. Then, early in the second quarter, Houston limped off the field after he turned his right ankle in a scrum. So when he back-peddled to field a North punt on his own 1-yard line - the cardinal sin of punt returns, especially since this punt was heading into the end zone - it appeared as if the 6-foot speedster's day wasn't going to improve.
Houston ran toward the left side of the field at Doug Shaw Stadium, reversed course and, courtesy of a couple of nice blocks from his teammates, took it 99 yards for the game's first touchdown in the North's 21-17 victory over the South on Saturday.
"My [former Woodmont coach Richard Schrader] and my coach up here said 'put your feet on the 10 and don't go back, if the ball goes over your head, let it go,' " Houston said. "I thought I was gonna catch it and start running ... I didn't know what yard line I picked it up at. I just took off."
For much of the game, plays like Houston's defined the contest, which wasn't settled until South quarterback Elliott Alford was chased out of bounds at the 12-yard line as time expired in the fourth quarter after the South drove deep into North territory.
The North has won nine of the last 12 games in the series.
In this one, neither team scored an offensive touchdown until the second half, with the South's first touchdown coming off a Malik Brown fumble recovery in the end zone in the second quarter.
Both offenses struggled to move the ball early. The North was in line to put points on the board after defensive end Brandon Willis recovered a South fumble at the South's 29-yard line. However, the North failed to pick up a first down and was stopped on fourth and short.
The South took advantage, driving 65 yards to set up a 32-yard Ray Early field goal to put the South up 3-0 about 11 minutes into the game.
The offenses finally opened up in the second half. Alford connected with Corey Washington for a 57-yard touchdown pass, a play in which Houston appeared to slip, allowing Washington an uncontested jaunt into the end zone.
The North countered with a 4-yard Nino Woolridge touchdown run, as well as a 30-yard pass from Chas Dodd to South Carolina commitment Drake Thomason.
The loss was disappointing for the South players, but several expressed the notion they simply felt grateful for having been invited.
"What we really wanted to do was win," said South receiver Tyler Smith, who had a 52-yard reception from Alford in the fourth quarter. "But anytime you can do something positive and help your team, especially in an all-star game like this - the state of South Carolina is one of the best football states in the nation - it's really special."
S - Ray Early 37 field goal
N - Okoye Houston 99 punt return (run failed)
S - Malik Brown fumble recovery (Early kick)
N - Jeremy Tommie 34 field goal
S - Elliott Alford 57 pass to Corey Washington
N - Nino Woolridge 4 run (pass failed)
N - Chas Dodd 30 pass to Drake Thomason (run failed)
Time of possession
RUSHING - South: Elliott 4-11, Melvin Clark 1-(-7) Del'Javon Simmons 1-(-6), Murden 12-(-5), R.J. Robinson 12-81, Quinton Singleton 3-5, Martell Johnson 9-17, Jeremy Robinson 2-3, Laurez Matthews 1-(-4), Malik Brown 1-0, Morgan Byrd 1-(-2). North: Jake Lambert 7-14, Jamaine Thackson 3-9, Dominique Parks 9-11; Dodd 6-(-22), Andre Whitmire 1-2, Jamal Tyler 7-(-3), Woolridge 7-41, Quinten Darby 2-(-2), Bobby Kelly 1-0, Thomason 1-(-2).
PASSING - South: Elliott 6-16-154-0, Murden 7-10-84-1. North: Lambert 6-14-103-0, Dodd 5-9-67-0, Thomason 1-2-8-0.
RECEIVING - South: Alex Sharpe 1-1, Simmons 2-16, Loyd 5-48, Johnson 1-21, James Tyler Smith 1-52, Washington 3-100. North: Thomason 2-51, Burton Harbin 1-8, Kelly 2-25, Victor Frick 2-33, Joe Craig 1-2, Justin Burrell 1-5, Sergio Johnson 2-32.
SERIES RECORD - North leads series 35-25-2.