FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Cameron Newton has played in plenty of big games in his high school career, but his performance at Thursday's Offense-Defense All-American introduced him to the national stage.
And what a sweet introduction it was for the 6-foot-4, 232-pound four-star dual-threat quarterback from Atlanta Westlake.
Newton guided the East offense on three scoring drives and helped his team come away with a 28-14 victory in the inaugural Offense-Defense All-American Bowl in Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium. Newton was 8-for-12 for 181 yards and one touchdown pass. He also had six rushes for 9 yards.
"It's really nothing," Newton said as he clutched the most valuable player trophy following the game. "You just get the ball to the playmakers and let them make plays. These guys are all big-time ball players and big time players make big time plays in big games. That's what coach (Rush) Propst said to do in the second half, and that's what we did."
For a while it looked like it would be the West walking away with the victory. After scoring first, the West answered with 14 points to take a 14-7 lead. The main sparkplug for the West offense was Gardena (Calif.) Serra receiver Anthony Boyles, who made back-to-back catches including one that was a leaping snag for the touchdown.
"I don't think anybody can hold me man-to-man," Boyles, who was named offensive player of the game for the West, said. "He was playing man, and I just went up and over him. The play was 90 and if the guy pressing on you, you run a steak. So he came up on me, and I went right past him. I had to go up and get the ball high."
The West then scored again when Aaron Corp of Villa Park (Calif.) Orange Lutheran connected with Lufkin, Texas, receiver Dez Bryant on a fade pass in the left corner of the end zone.
But after half time it was all East.
After tying the score at 14-14 on a quarterback scramble by Stephen Garcia, East took complete control of the game.
Newton connected with Chris Culliver of Garner, N.C., on a third and 30 play. Culliver made three West defenders miss in the open field and he eventually took the ball to the house racing 78-plus yards for the score. It was easily the play of the game.
"I don't know what really happened," Culliver said. "I just was trying to get a first down. I just ran an out pattern and three guys were right there. I somehow made them miss and I took off. I got a great block downfield from Joe Haden, and I just took it to the house."
Newton said at the time he was kind of just throwing the ball away to Culliver because he was getting tremendous pressure. Then he saw Culliver make the defenders miss and it was off to the races.
"We executed and made big plays when we needed to," Newton said. "And none was bigger than that play."
Newton and his fellow Gator commitment Joe Haden were both big in the game. Haden had six catches for 81 yards. As Culliver mentioned, Haden also had a key block that helped spring him for the touchdown run.
"He had three dudes right around him, and I didn't think he would get away from them," Haden said. "Then he did and one dude was chasing him, and I just had to chase him down and get in front of him to make a big block.
"To me this game was like a dream come true. It was real cool. To me you get to see the future of Florida football. It lets you know what you're getting ready for. I head to Florida tomorrow, and Cameron will be up there with me. My quarterback is also going to be my roommate, and it doesn't get much better than that."
Culliver finished the game with three catches for 97 yards. South Carolina running back commitment Brian Maddox had two catches for 33 yards, Wisconsin-bound receiver Nick Toon had two grabs for 18 yards and Auburn-bound running back Enrique Davis got one reception for 13 yards.
Cheraw, S.C., four-star defensive end Cliff Matthews walked away with the defensive player of the game for the East after recording two tackles and two sacks.
But the biggest play maker on the East defensive side of the ball was Morgan Burnett. Burnett had four tackles, two pass breakups and one interception.
After the East jumped out to a big lead, the West had to try to rally and they did move the ball quite effectively but never could quite get into the end zone. Omar Bolden of Ontario (Calif.) Colony was the leading rusher in the game with 81 yards on 12 rushes.
"I know I didn't have the best week of practice, so I had something to prove tonight," Bolden said. "I wish I had gotten a touchdown or two."
His teammates certainly agree, but individually there were a few standouts.
Quarterback Kodi Burns was three of nine for 81 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but he also do some damage with 43 yards rushing. Corp was six of 13 for 70 yards and one touchdown pass. Raymond Carter of Los Angeles Crenshaw also showed flashes of brilliance with six rushes for 20 yards.
Bryant did snag three catches for 54 yards and that one touchdown score. Georgia-bound tight end Aron White had four catches for 31 yards, too.
Defensively, linebacker Jordan Campbell of Norco, Calif., and Chad Jones of Baton Rouge (La.) Southern Lab were the biggest playmakers for the West. Campbell was all over the field all game long and had seven tackles and a pass breakup. Jones had five tackles for the game. Also impressing on defense was Michael Keck with four tackles and one sack.