FORT WORTH —   The next steps he takes are in Iowa, in the Big Ten, the big time.

 But on Tuesday night Nic Shimonek took his final steps as a high school quarterback — and they led him right into the end zone.

“He’s a heck of a player, a heck of a player,’’ said Stephenville football coach Joseph Gillespie moments after Shimonek scored to nail down a 39-29 win for the North in the 79th annual Texas High School Football Coaches Association All-Star Game.

Gillespie was the head coach of the North, and moments after the game he was Shimonek’s biggest fan.

Hard not to be...

The kid from Mildred had just staged one of those hold-your-breath, game-on-the-line drives. You know the kind — Elway, Manning, Staubach drives. Those guys made last minute drives famous.

Shimonek was just saying farewell, just waving good-bye to a high school career at Mildred no one in this part of Texas will soon forget.

It was the perfect wave.

By the time it was over, Shimonek had completed 8-of-9 passes for 172 yards and had thrown for a TD (a beauty on a 69-yard pass to Whitehouse’s Dylan Cantrell that lifted the North to an 18-14 lead in the third) and he had run for a TD.

He was brilliant on the final drive — going 3-for-3 in the air for 76 yards before slipping into the end zone with a 9-yard TD run that would have made Peyton Manning proud.

It was an audible.

“It was just a read. The play was going to the running back, but I saw the end pinch in and knew that play wouldn’t work,’’ Shimonek said. “He (the running back) went left and I kept the ball and went to the right. I don’ think I scored because of my speed. It was more because of deception. I don’t think they knew I had the ball. The running back on the play asked me, ‘how did you find that hole?’ ’’

With just 2:12 left in the game, Shimonek’s missing-ball-trick sealed the win.

“You’re going to laugh when I tell you this,’’ Shimonek said afterward. “All week I was telling myself that if I scored a touchdown I was going to spike the ball, cause you can never spike the ball, but this is an all-star game. I was going to spike it.’’

But he went spikeless.

“Then when I scored, I forgot to do it,’’ Shimonek said with one of those can-you-believe-that smiles. “I guess I just got caught up in the moment.’’

It was his moment.

He took over at his own 25 with a 32-29 lead and 4:48 left in a see-saw game that had the crowd of 12,185 at Amon Carter Stadium riding right along up-and-down all night.

The South fans were up — way up after the first play from scrimmage on that last drive. Shimonek was sacked, and just-like-that, he faced a second and 20 from his own 15. It was the third time the South sacked him, and the sixth of the night for a defense that was coming fast and hard in the final minutes.

“That was a great drive,’’ Gillespie said. “And he had to start out in a hole after that sack.’’

It seemed like Shimonek was starting in the hole all night — because he was. He completed his first pass on his first play from scrimmage in the first quarter only to see it get wiped out with a block in the back penalty that happened after the catch. It left Shimonek facing a first-and-20.

On the third quarter drive that ended with the bomb to Cantrell, the first play was a pitchout to the tailback, who fumbled and took a four-yard loss. Shimonek was swarmed on the second-and-14 play, but managed to avoid the sack and pick up three yards. Then on third-and-11, he stepped out of the pressure and sent a strike to Cantrell, who and waltzed in untouched.

So when Shimonek’s last drive started with a sack, he just picked himself up and started finding a way to win. He connected with Cantrell over the middle to the 26 and then on third-and-11 he found Lufkin’s Jabryce Taylor, who made a remarkable leaping catch between two defenders. Taylor was incredible all night, setting a record for receiving yards with 226 on 10 receptions. But his high-flying circus 29-yard catch at the 45 was his only reception from Shimonek.

“He ran the wrong route on the play,’’ Shimonek said. “I told him, ‘you better learn that playbook when you get to SMU and run the right route.’ And I told him it was a great catch and told him he’s got great God-given ability to make a catch like that. He is really gifted.’’

Shimonek got hammered after he released the ball, and even the player who hit him — El Campo defensive end Cole Hunt — gained respect for the Mildred QB.

“I hit him hard, and he got back up,’’ Hunt said. “Man that guy can throw. He puts the ball right on the money. He’s a great quarterback. All their quarterbacks can throw.’’

Shimonek felt the it and was on the ground when he looked up and saw Taylor make the catch.

“He hit me hard. I thought my back popped out,’’ Shimonek said.

Two plays later, he got hammered again, but managed to throw a perfect strike to Cantrell over the middle for a 36-yard gain to the 9-yard-line. Then Slick-Nic gave the South the slip — into the end zone.

“Did you see those hits he took? He took two big hits on that drive,’’ Gillespie said. “But he got back up. He got roughed up and kept going. That drive was huge.’’

Shimonek got hit even harder after the game.

Mix in a little history, a little ground-breaking stuff. It packs a wallop.

Shimonek is the first player from Mildred to play in this game, this 79-year-old classic that brings some of the best in Texas together every July.

“I didn’t know that,’’ said Shimonek.

Then he went silent. He wasn’t staggered, just hit hard with the news. He picked himself and threw a completion to Mildred.

“It goes a long way...It’s an honor, such a honor to be here,’’ Shimonek said. “But what it really says, is it says volumes about Mildred, volumes about our program and how far we’ve come. We won our first playoff game in 2A as sophomores, and as juniors we went to the state semifinals, and then this year we got to the state title game. It just speaks volumes about the program.’’

It hit him hard.

Consider Shimonek’s feat: Corsicana has sent 20 to the THSCA All-Star Game, including Otha Langston and Paul Harshaw, who played in the first one back in 1935, and Jon Bauer, who was the Tigers’ last player in this game in 2005.

 But Shimonek is by himself, the lone Eagle.

 And that made every snap he took, every handoff and every pass he threw mean so much more. It’s always like that when history mingles with sports.

He smiled and said he wouldn’t be the last Eagle to play in this game. He meant it.

That’s part of his legacy.

With one foot pointed toward Iowa and his future, Shimonek wanted to talk more about Mildred than what he had done Tuesday night.

Sure, there’s all the awards, district MVPs, back-to-back all-state honors, and the Daily Sun’s Del Thrash Player of the Year Award as the Golden Circle’s best football player. There are numbers stacked as high as Big Tex — 8,215 career passing yards, 99 TDs and a senior season (35 TDs and 2,718 yards and a trip to Cowboys Stadium) no one will forget. But Shimonek’s love for the program and what it meant to him — and will always mean to him — to be an Eagle is the best part of that final drive, that last wave good-bye.

That’s his real legacy.

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