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SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Quinton Cooley’s Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas experience lasted exactly two plays from scrimmage Saturday at the 83rd annual postseason all-star game pitting North Carolina’s best high school players versus South Carolina’s finest.
The Southern Nash senior star picked up four yards on the first play from scrimmage but, on the next play, a four-yard reception by Cooley, he severely injured his ankle — thus, ending his high school career. However, the good news is that X-rays were negative, showing only a sprain.
Cooley, who has signed with Wake Forest University, is graduating from high school early and enrolling at WFU for the spring semester. His injury, which came on the same leg as a foot injury he sustained during state 3-A championship game a week earlier, isn’t expected to keep Cooley out of the Demon Deacons spring practice.
“I feel really good about it,” he said in a telephone interview from his home near Bailey on Sunday night. “Hopefully I can get my ankle right and won’t have to risk another ankle injury.”
While he had to watch the rest of the game, a 28-17 loss for his North Carolina team, Cooley was upbeat about his experience.
“It was a bunch of different people from different cities and towns and everybody got to know each other,” he said. “Everybody was just fun. Everybody stuck with each other.”
Cooley, who become the ninth Firebird to play in a Shrine Bowl, roomed with fellow running back Elijah Burris of Mountain Island Charter. The two were among the top rushers in the state this season with Cooley’s 3,058 yards at the top of the list and Burris in seventh place with 2,231. The two players are similar in stature with Cooley listed at 5-foot-8, 195 pounds and Burris, a North Carolina signee, at 5-10, 205 pounds.
“He’s my twin!” Cooley said of Burris, who was named the N.C. Offensive Player of the Game. “Me and Elijah hung out a lot. He’s a really cool dude.”
Another “cool dude” that Cooley befriended in Spartanburg last week was his nemesis in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A championship game, in which Charlotte Catholic handed the Firebirds a 23-7 loss. Cougars defensive tackle Malik McGowan — all 6-foot-4, 340 pounds of him — proved to be a tough opponent across the line for Cooley and the Firebirds.
However, Cooley said he and McGowan, who has signed with North Carolina, became fast friends and only once did the championship game come up.
“We did one time because the coach asked me something about it and he said, ‘Yeah, what happened in that game?” Cooley said. “I told him, ‘We ain’t talking about that right now!’”
Behind 411 offensive yards, including 153 passing by Sandlappers quarterback and East Carolina signee Mason Garcia, South Carolina won for the first time since 2014. The teams tied 10-10 last year when Cooley’s former Southern Nash teammate Zonovan “Bam” Knight earned N.C. Offensive Player of the Game honors.
Jalin Hyatt, a Tennessee signee who totaled 197 yards in receptions, got the Sandlappers on the board with a 23-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. The Tarheels came back in the second quarter on a safety and a 15-yard punt return by Javondre Paige of Greensboro Page.
Garcia and Hyatt hooked up on a 72-yard TD connection to put South Carolina back in front in the third quarter. But Paige found Belmont South Point wide receiver and UNC commit Ray Rose on a 28-yard scoring play to let the Tarheels reclaim the lead.
The fourth quarter, however, belonged to South Carolina as Garcia scored from a yard out and Rahjai Harris, another ECU commit, ran it in from 20 yards for the final score.
Harris had a game-high 95 yards on the ground while Burris totaled 73 for North Carolina.