You wouldn’t expect with a mere six days of practice out of season, that a football all-star game would be dominated by defense.
But in the 30th installment of the Lezzer Lumber Classic in its return to Mansion Park, the North team’s defense put on quite a show Friday night.
The North caused seven turnovers, intercepting five passes and recovering two fumbles, in a decisive 24-7 victory.
“It wasn’t bad,” understated Bald Eagle Area’s Bryan Greene, who was one of the defensive leaders with an interception and a fumble recovery. “We had a goal a couple days ago. (Clearfield coach Tim) Janocko got the defense together and was like, ‘Let’s put up a goose egg on them, a goose egg on the scoreboard.’ We almost did.”
The other big defensive leader was Clearfield’s Tyler Stratton, who picked off three passes and garnered Defensive Most Valuable Player honors.
Picking up the Offensive MVP award was one of the young men who turned those mistakes into points — Penns Valley quarterback Cameron Tobias, who was 6 for 9 for 110 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Tobias said of finishing his high school career with a win and an MVP award. “It is the last game, and everybody worked hard this week. There were many, plenty of guys that were deserving of the award, and it’s awesome that we all came out on top with a win.”
While Tobias will be playing football at Lock Haven, and it marked the final time for many others to play football before heading off to college, for others it was the last time possibly ever to strap on a helmet and pads.
A number of other Centre County athletes also made major contributions.
A trio from BEA all left their marks. Bryan Greene also had three punt returns for 27 yards, his twin brother Bryce caught a 37-yard pass from Tobias and Dakota Bartley had one catch for 12 yards and was the game’s leading rusher with seven carries for 94 yards.
“It’s definitely not something you expect in an all-star game,” Bartley said of the lopsided final score. “You expect a high shootout and a close game and it didn’t turn out like that.”
The turnover numbers also were evident in the yardage totals. The North finished with 356 yards, including 164 on the ground, while the South had just 142 total yards, marred by 11 yards rushing on 30 carries.
“It’s hard to come back from (seven),” Mifflin County and South coach George Miskinis said. “It’s hard to come back from one sometimes in a game, but when you make (seven), I think the defense played extremely well. They played their hearts out, and we had a hard time to really just keep our composure, pick up one first down at a time and just try to establish the line of scrimmage. We did, but it was late.”
The North was certainly happy with its defensive showing.
“Any time you get that short week, and they’ve been off since December, November, we’re really pleased,” Clarion and North coach Larry Wisor said. “I’ve always been a proponent of … zeroes I really like. It’s my favorite number.”
Wisor also ran a wing-T offense that was a little tough to get used to, but eventually his team for a week adapted.
“It’s definitely wild,” Tobias said. “It’s something new, and it’s something that I never ran in my life, but they run some good things. It was exciting getting to the edge with some of the speed guys like Dakota and a bunch of other guys.”
All of the North’s points came from Clarion players in one form or another.
Damien Slike caught a 14-yard strike from Tobias for the first score in the opening quarter.
Bryan Greene thought he added to the total with a 64-yard punt return for a score, but it was wiped out by a penalty.
“I didn’t see (the flag) at first,” Greene said. “Then my dad up in the stands said, ‘He didn’t mean too!’ I guess the ref didn’t hear him.”
On the ensuing play, Bartley raced 59 yards to get North on the doorstep. Bartley also thought he had a score but was stuffed inched away, and Slike finished the drive.
“It happens,” Bartley said. “It kills you. You think you’re getting into the end zone in an all-star game, you find you’re one yard short. It’s not what you want to hear.”
A Tobias-to-Cody Hearst 13-yard strike in the final minute before halftime made it 21-0 at the break. Clarion kicker Antonio Trease, who made all three of his PAT tries, booted a 32-yard field goal early in the third to close the North scoring.
A four-yard pass from Williamsburg quarterback Austin McMonagle to Central’s Bradi Moore midway through the fourth spoiled the shutout.
Moore also had seven carries for 30 yards for the Offensive MVP for the South, and Mifflin County’s John Michael Maclay was the South Defensive MVP.
Even with a short week of practice, it all came together well and easily for the North.
“We came into camp like we were teammates for three years,” Bryan Greene said. “We got to know each other and it was a pleasure.”
Notes: South lost one of its top athletes, Central running back Austin Cunningham, to a knee injury on its second offensive series of the game. … A number of athletes picked up $500 scholarships, including Tobias and Taylor Collison of Penns Valley and State College quarterback Patrick Irwin. … Hearst led in receiving with three catches for 105 yards.