Payne’s punt return leads South to NEMFCA All-Star Game win

BOONEVILLE – In the dying moments of a scoreless first half, South All-Stars coach Jimmy Young wanted to give one of his weapons a chance.

Young used two timeouts on defense to force the North All-Stars to punt to Aberdeen’s Justin Payne, and he made the most of the opportunity. Payne exploded through the punt coverage and raced 60 yards to the end zone.

Payne’s touchdown as time expired in the first half was all his team needed, and the South All-Stars took home a 9-0 win in this year’s Northeast Mississippi Football Coaches Association All-Star Classic on Wednesday at Northeast Mississippi Community College.

Young, who’s the head coach at Mooreville, knew Payne’s ability on returns too well.

“That was one of the first kids I wanted because he returned one against me on a squib kick in the regular season, so I knew how special he was,” Young said. “I was excited to get him, and I knew in that situation, if I wanted to give him a chance, we’d go after it and he’d have a chance. That little rascal just makes plays, man.”

Wednesday’s game was a defensive slugfest from start to finish. The two teams traded punts for much of the first half. The defensive showdown continued into the second half, where the only points were on a safety. The North All-Stars lined up to punt on the first drive of the third quarter, only for the snap to go out of the back of the end zone.

The North All-Stars drove into scoring territory late in the fourth quarter, but the South All-Stars came up with one final stop to clinch the shutout victory.

“The South defense was lights out, the North defense was lights out,” North All-Stars head coach Isaac Boose said. “For me, it was a joy to watch, but it wasn’t a joy to watch because I would have wanted to score some more points.”

Regardless of the score, Wednesday night’s game gave this year’s graduating seniors one more night under the lights together. And one last memory from high school for Payne.

“It was in slow motion the whole time,” Payne said. “First guy, I slowed down. I see my teammate wave at me. So when I see my teammate wave, I went straight to him, found a hole and it was a touchdown from there.”

Extra Points

Turning Point: Payne’s punt return gave the South All-Stars their first points of the night.

Point Man: Caden Thompkins from Louisville was named overall MVP.

Talking Point: “That defensive front was ferocious. We had eight and we just kept them rotating up there. … Their talents just shine.” – Young, on his defensive front