NAZARETH - The Lehigh Valley McDonald's All-Star Classic is in the books, and the general consensus is that the 43rd edition was a rousing success.
The Gold team (Northampton County, Phillipsburg and Palisades) utilized its skill on the ground and in the air to narrowly defeat the Red squad (Lehigh, Carbon and Monroe counties), 13-8.
For the TIMES NEWS area players on the losing end in the contest, it was more about the experience than the result.
"Honestly, this has been awesome," said Northern Lehigh's Darien Middaugh. "This has been some of the most fun I've had playing football over the last few weeks.
"You get to meet a lot of guys that you play against during the regular season and now you're playing with them. It's just been a lot of fun. The two weeks leading up to this are just as much fun as the game."
The Red team took a 2-0 lead in the first quarter after Pocono Mountain East's Steven Randazzo sacked Wilson's Ryan Dailey in the endzone for a safety with 30.9 seconds left in the first quarter.
While the Gold squad struggled to get its offense in gear in the opening quarter, the team was able to keep the deficit to one possession thanks to a pair of three-and-outs.
Dailey and the offense capitalized on their team's defensive play, hooking up with Warriors teammate Zach Bogoly for a 34-yard completion to the Red 37 early in the second quarter.
Phillipsburg's Alex Martin took the ensuing handoff and went right, where he found a whole slew of defenders, bounced left and scampered 37 yards for the go-ahead touchdown as Gold led 7-2 with 7:06 until halftime.
Liberty linebacker Dylan Brown blocked a Red team punt and Gold was in business from the opponent's 31.
Dailey connected with Nazareth receiver Gaetaniello for a 31-yard TD and a 13-2 lead with 30.2 seconds left until halftime.
The Red team cut the lead to 13-8 after Northern Lehigh quarterback Dan Marsh ran for a 3-yard TD with 6:48 left in the third quarter.
The team was poised to take the lead after Whitehall's Zach Delp recovered Chris Negron's fumble and brought it to the Gold 6, but the play was negated due to illegal defense. Red's defenders blitzed, which is illegal in this all-star game, as Gold avoided the scare and retained possession.
Freedom's Sean Wrobel drilled a 46-yard punt to pin the Red team at its own 11 with 1:42 left. Notre Dame's Noah Miller intercepted Jeffrey Krisiak to end the rally with 1:08 left and seal the win.
For Marsh, what he'll remember most is being able to have one more game to end his high school career.
"It was one last time for us to all get together and have a great time," said Marsh. "I know I'll never forget it and I'm sure they won't either. It'll be something that will always be with us."
Along with Middaugh, Marsh also had Northern Lehigh teammates Kris Seiler, Caleb Johnson and Zach Feifel to share field with. Unfortunately, Johnson wasn't able to play in the game to due an injury he suffered in practice earlier in the week,
Another injured star was Pleasant Valley's Dakota Everett, who was unable to participate due to an ailing knee. The Bears had strong representation in the contest regardless, with Tony Bell, Sekou Jones, Andrew Romeo, Dominick Ammirato and Michael Benner earning spots on the squad.
The selection alone was something that Jones won't take for granted.
"Being asked to come to this game means a lot to me," said Jones. "Only the best of the best are asked to come to this game.
"And playing with teammates for the last time is great. I had a great time."
Lehighton's Jacen Nalesnik and Palmerton's John Snyder were the lone representative of their respective schools, but each made an impact.
Nalesnik was a threat with his route running all night, constantly putting the defense on its heels with his speed and versatility.
Snyder was a menace in the trenches, turning in a gritty performance on the line. Snyder's work didn't go unnoticed, as he earned the Spirit Award from the coaches before the game.
"I think the award just means that I should keep doing what I'm doing," Snyder said. "Hard work pays off."