In the span of a week, a group of players from across the region — many of whom had never played on the same team before — became a smooth-running, hard-hitting, ball-hawking cohesive unit.
A pair of State College defensive backs had a lot to do with that.
Darian Herncane and Dan Fry played their final high school football game together surrounded by new faces in Friday’s 29th Lezzer Lumber Classic where the pair of Little Lion defensive backs helped lead the North to a 49-27 win at Alumni Stadium in Wingate.
With other locals — Bald Eagle Area’s Cole Long and Jon Romine, Bellefonte’s Dan Roan, Penns Valley’s Zach Harter and Scott Johnson, Philipsburg-Osceola’s Brian Matthews and State College’s Troy Peterson and Mike Rizzuto — at their sides, Herncane and Fry combined for six tackles, two interceptions and lead a North secondary that stymied a South passing attack as the game, co-sponsored by the Centre Daily Times, wore on.
The 29th Lezzer Lumber Classic featured a strict set of rules that prohibited blitzing and forced offenses to pass at least 30 percent of the time. That second criterion appealed to Herncane and Fry, who patrolled deep portions of the Alumni Stadium turf.
“In a regular game, a team can just be running, running, running, but in this game they have to pass it,” Fry said. “So it’s just something that sticks in your mind and makes you think that the pass is coming. It keeps you more on your toes for the pass.”
The first quarter was back-and-forth and momentum swung wildly both ways.
The North took an easy 7-0 lead on three plays when Central Mountain’s Von Walker followed up a 41-yard completion to Clearfield’s Trey Jordan with a nine-yard touchdown run of his own. The North was gifted two points when a long snap sailed over punter Josh Kutz’s head and into the end zone where Kutz gave chase and booted it out of bounds for a safety to avoid giving up a touchdown.
But the North couldn’t take advantage of good field position provided by a 23-yard Herncane return on the free kick.
Instead, Glendale’s Damon Braniff fumbled immediately thereafter and South lineman Josh Kutz of Altoona scooped it up and rumbled 55 yards to cut the North’s lead to 9-7.
After the North marched 39 yards to set up Phil Esposito’s 23-yard field goal, the South was able to get its offense going. Coached by Hollidaysburg’s John Barton, the South rang up a 13-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ended on a one-yard run from Hollidaysburg quarterback Brian Urban.
But the North came back on the arm of a hometown favorite. Another sharp return, this one from Glendale’s Douge Twigg set the North up on the South’s 27-yard-line. The drive initially stalled following a holding call. That didn’t deter BEA quarterback Long, who rifled a 22-yard pass to Jordan to retake the lead.
Long, who was awarded a scholarship from the Pennsylvania Football Coaches Association following the game, was all smiles afterward.
“It was a post-wheel play and the corner sat and the safety drifted over on the wheel route, so they doubleteamed the wheel route and it was open on the post,” Long said. “It meant a lot because a lot of my family was able to come to it and they tailgated before and had a good time.”
The South clawed its way back down the field where Urban hooked up with Blake Davis on a 25-yard passing touchdown to open the second quarter. Fry would kill any momentum the South had after that, however.
After a North punt, the South ran four plays and was helped by a pass interference penalty. But as the South offense maneuvered into North territory, Fry spied an overthrown pass from Urban, spun on his heels and snagged the ball out of the air.
“When I saw the ball in the air I wasn’t sure if it was going to go over his head or at him so my thought was, either I was going to hit him or pick it off,” Fry said. “He threw it too far and I was right there to grab it.”
The North would turn Fry’s pick into points as Braniff finished a five-play drive with a 17-yard dash to the endzone.
“It took all the air out of their sails,” North coach Michael Keith said of Fry’s interception.
Late in the third, Urban was intercepted again. This time it wasn’t a speedy defensive back, though. Instead, Brockway lineman Matt Snyder swiped a screen pass try out of the air at midfield. Walker, who was named the North’s offensive MVP for his 219 total yards, needed just one play to effectively end the South’s night.
The soon-to-be Penn State run-on aired a 50-yard touchdown pass to an uncovered Jared Baummer to give the North a 35-21 lead with just over three minutes to play. Walker added a 55-yard touchdown pass to Garret Brown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The South’s comeback attempt was beleagured by two personal foul penalties and another interception from Fry. A solid return was negated by an unsportsmanlike penalty on the South’s ensuing drive. After forcing a North punt, the South tried a halfback option pass that Fry sniffed out and intercepted. On its next drive, the South was hit again with a flag after Altoona’s Charles Wilson-Adams spoiled his 39-yard catch with a taunting gesture that drew another 15-yard penalty.
He’d make up for it with a 12-yard touchdown catch with 5:04 to go but Walker added an eight-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring.
“They’re easy to coach, they’re great to coach and we had a great group,” Keith said of the North. “They were fun, gentlemen and they’re going to do well in the future.”