When it comes to all-star games, there is always a learning curve.
The key is how quickly a team can learn and make adjustments to gain the upper hand.
For the South team, it was able to string together two straight scoring drives in the first quarter and finished the North off with another late drive to win 21-7 in the 31st annual Central Pennsylvania Football Coaches Association Lezzer Lumber Classic at Bison Stadium on Friday.
“We just played it by ear in the first half and saw what they were doing,” South and Tyrone coach Jason Wilson said, “and we had to make some defensive adjustments there. They (North) had a couple big plays that didn’t go in their favor, like really long loss plays, that helped us out.”
The South gained an early 14-0 lead with six minutes remaining in the first quarter. Tyrone’s Garrett Hunter did the damage through the air, connecting with Altoona’s Eli Mencer for the first score of the game and then later hooking up with Central’s Mike Mock.
After the South’s defense forced a punt, Mencer opened the drive with a 30-yard run. The South mixed up the run and pass game well on the drive, capped by Hunter hitting Mencer in the flat on a 6-yard score. Less than a minute later, Hunter threw a strike to a wide-open Mock, who was a good 15 yards the North’s closest defender for a 68-yard score.
“We thought that was one of the things we could connect on as long as we got the time,” Wilson said of the scoring play. “We had it a couple of other times but didn’t have time to complete the pass. They (North) had a really good defensive line.”
The North wouldn’t go away so easily.
State College’s John Weakland led the North on a drive that took up nearly seven minutes. The drive almost came to a stall on fourth-and-2, but a jet sweep from Kyle Billings kept the drive alive on a five-yard gain and to the South’s 29-yard line. The North got to the 11 before the quarter ended. That’s when Weakland, who was named the North’s Offensive MVP, connected with Clearfield’s Erik Sellers on an 11-yard pass in the flat and Sellers walked into the end zone for the North’s lone score of the night.
“It was one of those games we had to establish the run,” North and State College coach Matt Lintal said, “and we couldn’t do that early on. We’d get the ball moving and then have drive killing penalties that set us back and kept us out of the end zone.
“They were really costly,” Lintal added about the mistakes, “but these kids never put their heads down they kept fighting.”
From there, the defenses stole the show.
Neither team was able to score again in the half thanks in part to sloppy ball handling and overall play. The North’s Brad Peterson, from DuBois and was named the North’s Defensive MVP, recovered two fumbles in the second quarter with one being a questionable fumble call as it seemed to be a foward pass, but officials ruled otherwise. The other fumble was true as State College’s Lonnie Koudela popped a runner as the South was at the North’s 39-yard line.
“It was awesome,” Koudela said of the play. “I know these guys were trying their hardest and I wanted to give nothing but my best.”
However, the South’s defense stood tall and turned the North away.
The teams traded possessions in the third quarter with neither pressuring to score.
“Our defensive backs were one of our strong points going into the game,” Wilson said. “All of our guys, even the rotators, we were matching up with anybody. The guys up front went hard every play and contained the quarterback. The offense moved the ball well but the second half really turned into a defensive game.”
In the fourth quarter, it started out the same. The North forced another South fumble, this one recovered by Penns Valley’s Luke Bitsko. The North was unable to doing anything with the possession and was forced to punt the ball.
The South went on a two-minute scoring drive that was capped with a Mason Marks’ one-yard plunge into the end zone and finished the night off. It was almost certain that Marks would finish off the drive as he had a big 23-yard run to get the South to the 1.
“We had a fun, relaxing week,” Wilson said of his team. “As the week got on, we could see they were working hard. We told them, ‘If you work hard, your going to get the ‘W.’”
The South got a win, but the players got much more to finish their high school careers.
“It was a blast,” said Weakland, who finished with 70 yards passing and 44 yards receiving. “I couldn’t have asked for a better team to finish my high school career with. I’m going to remember this forever.”
Koudela added: “Even though we didn’t come out with a win, we still came out with a great experience.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s Mike Jabco, who was the first Wolves player in the event, had one reception for nine yards but his punting leg pinned the South offense deep several times on the night. He finished with four punts and tallied 150 yards, good for a 371/2 average. Jabco enjoyed his time playing and meeting new people.
“The experience wasn’t the win or loss thing,” Jabco said, “but it was kind of meeting everyone from the different schools and seeing how we could come together in a week and I think we did pretty good. It’s really cool because coming out here I’m the only one from my school and the first one ever so its really nice to get out here and represent the name and let everyone learn about the school.”