JOHNSTOWN — Throughout the week, players, coaches and fans anticipated the potential fireworks that Friday night’s matchup could provide. And when the time came, the game did not disappoint.
In a back-and-forth affair featuring tons of talent, the South held off the North for a 28-21 victory in the 49th annual Ken Lantzy Finest 40 All-Star Classic at Greater Johnstown’s Trojan Stadium.
Twenty-two Heritage Conference players participated, with many of them making their mark during their last Friday night under the lights.
“It’s like something you dream of to get that type of team together,” said Penns Manor’s Matthew Somogyi, who rushed for 27 yards on five carries for the winning team. “It’s so fun meeting new guys and coming out and getting the win.”
Somogyi was one of five local athletes on the South roster. He joined Penns Manor teammate Tommy Hamilton and Homer-Center’s Logan Williams, Trevor Mlakar and T.J. Tagliati.
The other 17 area players were on the North squad, which was coached by United’s Kevin Marabito.
“It was a great week,” Marabito said. “It’s all about having fun and doing it the right way, and even though we didn’t come out on top tonight, I couldn’t be any prouder of these kids and the work they put in and the way they did things this week.”
Teaming up for the North were Blairsville’s Adam Ratkus; Ligonier Valley’s John Caldwell, Aaron Tutino, Zach Beitel and Blake Bridge; Marion Center’s Zack Hicks; Northern Cambria’s Mark Marino, Ben Vasil and Nicholas Sifford; Purchase Line’s Quinn Scaelse; Saltsburg’s Dylan Cindric and Garrett Carr; United’s Mason Muir, Austin Rose, Joe Turek and Marc McCullough; and West Shamokin’s Brendan Mondi.
“It was great,” Rose said of playing with his former opponents. “I was expecting there to be bad blood or something because we all play against each other, but they all make you feel right at home, and we had a great week.”
For the North team, the week didn’t end as it hoped. The South’s Cory Myers scored on a 1-yard run on fourth down with 6:03 left in the game for 28-21 lead. The North then went three-and-out, but forced a fumble on the next possession to give itself another chance. After putting together a drive, the North eventually turned the ball over on downs, and the South took over with just 58 seconds remaining to seal the win.
“Everything went well except for on the scoreboard,” Marabito said. “Both teams played well. This is what the game’s all about. They had some big plays, we had some big plays and in the first half, we controlled the stats but we didn’t punch the ball in. That’s a tribute to them.”
Vasil scored from 2 yards out with 1:37 left in the first quarter, and after a failed two-point conversion the North held a 6-0 lead.
The South got on the board on a big 87-yard touchdown pass from Brady Fyfe to Shade teammate Dawson Snyder with 9:44 on the clock in the second quarter and took a 7-6 lead after the extra point.
On the first possession of the second half, Fyfe hit Jude Gdula on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 11:57 left in the third to take a 14-6 lead.
Caldwell connected with Damon Maul for a 7-yard touchdown and then connected with Jake Shope on the two-point conversion with 4:13 left in the third to tie it up.
The South answered on its next offensive play, a 27-yard touchdown pass from Fyfe to Gdula with 4:06 on the clock in the third. Five plays later, Mondi scored on a 2-yard run to knot it up again.
“We had a team full of players who gutted it out, and that’s all you could ever ask for,” Marabito said.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ratkus intercepted a Fyfe pass to swing the momentum back in the direction of the North.
“I had to extend out for it, grabbed it with two hands an pulled it in and came down with it,” Ratkus said. “It felt so amazing to get that pick and get something going in our favor at that point in the game.”
The game continued back and forth throughout the final quarter, but the South got the last word with the final touchdown and then held on for the victory.
“It was weird because I hardly knew anyone over there to start the week because they’re from different conferences and stuff like that, but we knew so many guys on this side,” Somogyi said. “But to get the win tonight with great, and I was glad I got to meet all those guys.”
Vasil rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown, Mondi rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown and Caldwell took off four times for 37 yards. He also threw for 142 yards and a touchdown on 13 of 28 passing. Tutino caught eight passes for a game-high 139 yards, and Hicks caught one pass for 17 yards.
“With the offense we were running, one ’backer had to take the tight end and one had to take the back, and that opened the middle up a lot for me and the line did a great job letting me step up in the pocket,” Caldwell said.
“Probably the hardest part is getting kids the playing time they need and deserve,” Marabito said. “Coaching this type of talent is tremendous. It was a lot of fun trying to get kids in the right places and seeing what they could do. Even though it didn’t work out for us tonight, it was a great week and a great game.”
Ratkus was named the top North defensive back and Caldwell was named the top offensive back.