North tops South

Posted: Sunday, February 01, 2004

LADY LAKE, Fla. (AP) Even after a record-setting performance, Tennessee running back Troy Fleming wanted to give credit to his Gridiron Classic teammates.

Fleming earned MVP honors by rushing for 101 yards on 19 carries both game records and his two second-half touchdown runs rallied the North to a 35-31 win Saturday.

''The offensive line was getting off well, the fullback was blocking well and the holes were there,'' Fleming said. ''When that's happening, all you've got to do is get the ball and run with it.''

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Fleming showed in college football's last all-star game that he can be a featured back. He played fullback for the Volunteers, carrying the ball only 84 times in 47 games.

''Hopefully, I've raised my stock,'' Fleming said.

Fleming's 7-yard scoring run with 7:24 remaining capped the comeback from a 10-point deficit. He also had a 3-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Florida running back Ran Carthon led the South with 73 yards. He opened the game with a 7-yard touchdown run.

The 66 points and 704 yards of total offense were also Gridiron Classic records.

The game was played at The Villages, a massive retirement community 60 miles northwest of Orlando. More than 12,300 fans packed a temporary stadium on a converted polo field.

Fleming's first touchdown was set up by 48-yard pass from Iowa's Nathan Chandler to Texas Tech receiver Carlos Francis. On the next play, Fleming's 3-yard dive cut the deficit to 31-28.

Chandler was 6-of-11 for 152 yards.

With 10:34 remaining, Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi went to work from the North's own 19. Completing four straight passes for 62 yards, Sorgi moved the ball to the South 7 to put Fleming in position for his winning run.

''Troy Fleming made a name for himself today,'' said Georgia coach Mark Richt, coach of the South team.

Fleming rushed a game-high 11 times after halftime because of an injury to a teammate.

Pittsburgh's Brandon Miree ran for a 4-yard touchdown early in the first quarter to tie the game at 7, but a bad hamstring limited him to one carry the rest of the way.

''That's a shame, because he's trying to get to the NFL like everybody else,'' Fleming said.

The South went up 31-21 midway through the third quarter on Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord's 15-yard keeper. Three minutes earlier, Georgia kicker Billy Bennett broke a tie with a 21-yard field goal.

But South co-head coach Pete Kuharchek said that was the key possession.

An interception had given the South the ball in the Red Zone, but the running game stalled and they were unable to score.

''That was the four-point swing right there. That was the game,'' said Kuharchek, who coaches in NFL Europe.

The South converted two turnovers for easy touchdowns in the first half.

Punter Scott Verhalen, from East Texas Baptist, pinned the North back on its 2 in the first quarter. On the next play, South Florida linebacker Maurice Jones stripped the ball from Washington State quarterback Matt Kegel and recovered at the 1. As time expired, McNeese State fullback Luke Lawton jumped over the line to put the South ahead 14-7.

In the second quarter, with the North deep in its own territory, Sorgi hit Iowa receiver Romby Bryant over the middle for an 18-yard gain. But South Florida safety JR Reed popped the ball loose, and Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds snatched it out of the air for a return to the 21.

Five plays later, Jackson State quarterback Robert Kent scored on a 1-yard plunge for a 21-14 lead.

The North knotted the game at 21 entering halftime on a 6-yard pass from Chandler to Illinois fullback Carey Davis.

Earlier in the second quarter, Sorgi shook off his fumble and led the North on a 73-yard TD drive. He capped it with a 12-yard TD pass to Virginia Tech tight end Keith Willis, tying the game at 14.

Sorgi completed nine of 11 passes for 131 yards.

The Gridiron Classic was played in Orlando's Citrus Bowl the previous five years, but dwindling attendance prompted a move to The Villages. The game's organizers were hoping for an infusion of spirit, and that's what they got.

The retirees, in a hundreds of golf carts, arrived early for tailgate parties. Almost everyone wore jackets and hats in their school colors to ward off the chill, damp weather, although a second-half rain sent many to the parking lots.

''This a great place,'' Richt said. ''I don't think they'll let me a buy a home here for another 15 years or so, but I'll buy a home here later.''

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