SCHUYLKILL HAVEN – North Schuylkill head coach Rick Geist lives and breaths "smashmouth football".
So when Geist and his Spartans' coaching staff were named to coach the North Squad at the 2011 Schuylkill County North-South Football Classic, you knew the game plan was going to be simple: run the football and play stout defense.
Saturday night at Schuylkill Haven's Rotary Field, the North executed Geist's principles to perfection as they posted a 7-0 victory over the South squad coached by Pottsville's Kevin Keating.
The win snaps a two-game winning steak by the South and marks the North's first victory since they posted a 26-0 shutout back in 2008.
The outcome was fitting for Geist, as he coached North Schuylkill to nine shutouts during the regular season that were backed by a ground-and-pound offensive attack.
"They're the only two things that we really know how to do," joked Geist. "We want to run the ball and try to play great defense and the kids really responded tonight in their last high school football game."
The game is organized by the Schuylkill County Football Coaches Association and is sponsored by Jim Thorpe National Bank.
The North featured 23 seniors from Jim Thorpe, Marian, Mahanoy Area, North Schuylkill and Shenandoah Valley. Meanwhile, the South featured a much larger roster of 39 players from Blue Mountain, Minersville, Nativity, Pine Grove, Pottsville, Schuylkill Haven, Tri-Valley and Williams Valley.
Jim Thorpe had eight players suited up for the North, which was approximately 35-percent of the total roster, and the Olympians wasted no time making their presence felt.
Shane Edwards took the opening handoff 22 yards and led the team in rushing with 12 carries for 87 yards. Edwards also scored the game's only touchdown, en route to being named the North's Most Valuable Player.
"This really means a lot," stated Edwards as he held the Terry Case M.V.P. Trophy. "Throughout the regular season and even here tonight, I had a great offensive line blocking for me. They did a great job opening up holes and allowing me to find the running lanes."
Perhaps familiarity also played a part in Edwards' success, as he took handoffs from Olympian quarterback Terry Moll, while three of his Jim Thorpe teammates paved the way on the line. The North's offensive line consisted of Jim Thorpe's Dante Lynch, Sean Leslie and Wes Hurley, in addition to North Schuylkill's Tyler Dean and Tyler Laudeman.
After a scoreless first quarter, the North squad went on an 11-play, 62-yard drive in the second quarter which ate up almost seven minutes off the clock. With Edwards and Pavalko chewing up yards on the ground, Moll also hooked up with North Schuylkill's Dylan Hughes twice through the air for 36 yards. Faced with a third-and-four from the South's six-yard line, Edwards took a toss around the right side and broke a few tackles for the game's lone touchdown. A Charlie Hutnick extra point made the score 7-0 with 1:06 remaining until halftime.
Edwards, a 1000-yard rusher will continue his career at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
The North's other 1000-yard rusher Ed Pavalko finished with 74 yards on 15 carries and will continue his football career at Colgate University in the fall.
While Edwards was busy on the offensive end, teammate Tyler Mangold was wreaking havoc for the North defense. Mangold, a defensive lineman that will continue his career at Albright College, sacked South quarterback Tyler Hartranft twice and was a main player for a North defense that held the South to 59 yards rushing on just 22 carries.
"This is a great feeling. My high school career may have ended on this field tonight, but it also marked the beginning of my next career (at Albright) and I'm very excited for that," stated Mangold.
With under six minutes left in the contest, the South got the ball back on their own 17-yard line but proceeded to march down the field. Hartranft hooked up with Minersville's Dave King twice for 30 yards and the South was driving at the North's 26-yard line with under two minutes remaining. On a second-and-six, Hartranft eluded defenders and found a wide open AJ Hubiak in the corner of the end zone for what looked to be a possible game-tying touchdown. However, an 18-yard holding penalty negated the score and the South never recovered.
"I thought we were starting to run out of gas there at the end, but when the game was on the line, they sucked it up and made the plays they needed to win the game," concluded Geist.
GRID NOTES – The Most Outstanding Player for the South was Pottsville's Robbie Thompson.
Also representing Jim Thorpe was Jon Fritz and Sean Green, while Marian was represented by the trio of Dom Richards, J.T. Keer and Evan Bellizia.
Saturday's contest also marked the final time that the game will be held in June for the foreseeable future. The Schuylkill County Football Coaches Association voted to move the game to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving beginning this season.
At halftime, Marian head football coach Stan Dakosty, Terry Case, the late Bill Schappell and the late William "Billy" Wolff were inducted into the 2011 Schuylkill County Football Coaches Hall of Fame.