SCHUYLKILL HAVEN – One thing all great football players have in common is that they love to play the game. In a sport where most teams don't even get to play a dozen games in a year, the great players relish every game, every series, every snap of their careers.
Some of Schuylkill County's greatest players were given one last chance to play a high school game Wednesday night. And they made the most of it, as the North topped the South, 35-21, in this year's Schuylkill County Football Coaches Association All Star Game, held at Schuylkill Haven's Rotary Field.
"For guys like me who have the passion in their heart to play," said Panther Valley's Richie Smith. "And who play for the passion, just to come out one more time with people that I've been playing with and playing against for years, it's awesome."
Smith and the North team (Panther Valley, Tamaqua, Marian, Jim Thorpe, North Schuylkill, Mahanoy, Shenandoah) traded scores with the South (Minersville, Tri-Valley, Schuylkill Haven, Nativity, Pottsville, Pine Grove, Blue Mountain, Williams Valley) early on.
The North took control when Ethan Motsney (North Schuylkil) caught a pair of touchdown passes from Patrick Duvigneaud (Jim Thorpe). One came in the final minute of the first half, the second opened the scoring in the third quarter and gave the North a 28-14 lead.
Duvigneaud completed three of his four pass attempts for 75 yards. He said the win and the stats are great, but the game was more about having fun and getting to know some players that have been rivals for the past four years or more.
"It felt great playing with guys like this," he said. "It's once in a lifetime. We're all having fun out here. We like the competition. It brings out the best in us."
Some of the rivalries run deep. Smith wasn't what practices would be like. A hard-hitting linebacker, he wasn't sure what it would be like lining up next to guys he's been pounding for years. But the rivalries were put aside and friendships were formed.
"I thought there was going to be a lot of fights at the practices," Smith said. "The first day was really awkward, but the second day we just hit each other and had fun. The guys from Tamaqua I've become pretty close friends with. And Marian, that's a pretty big rivalry for Panther Valley, and everybody, really."
And players from all of those teams contributed.
The North's first touchdown came on a 2-yard run by Jake Love (Tamaqua) and gave the team a 7-0 lead. The key play on the five-play scoring drive was a 36-yard, third-down completion from Chris Palubinsky (Shenadoah Valley) to Blue Devil teammate Nick Merva.
The South, which rode its workhorse running backs to 316 rushing yards, responded with a nine-play drive capped by 36-yard Justin Gilfillin (Blue Mountain) run to pay dirt that made it 7-7 in the second quarter.
The North, which ran a pretty balanced offense, retook the lead when Corey Quick (Marian) connected with Jim Thorpe receiver Michael Harleston for a 36-yard touchdown with 4:17 left in the first half.
The South came right back with a 75-yard scoring drive as Minersville's Chris Murphy scampered 13 yards to tie the game at 14-14 with 1:25 left in the second quarter.
Duvigneaud entered the game and completed two quick passes, the second was to Motsney for a 24-yard touchdown and a 21-14 lead with 42 seconds left in the first half.
The two hooked up again with 5:59 left in the third quarter, giving the North it's first two-score lead, 28-14.
Gilfillin, who earned the South team Most Valuable Player award with a 150-yard performance, broke free for the longest play of the night, a 67-yard scoring run that got his team back within one score, 28-21.
The North finished off the scoring when Palubinsky scampered four yards for a touchdown with 4:12 left in the game.
Murphy added 105 rushing yards for the South.
The North used an efficient and balanced offense. Three quarterbacks combined to go 12 for 17 for 224 yards.
Harleston had two catches for 83 yards. Motsney, the North team MVP, had 50 yards.
Other area players who were members of the North squad include Damian Richards (Marian), Dylan Houser (Tamaqua), Tyler Krell (Tamaqua), Anthony German (Panther Valley), Ryan Karnish (Marian), Michael Cataldo (Marian), Matt Levitt (Panther Valley), Dalton Nunemacher (Tamaqua), John Julian (Marian), Nolan Zeigler (Tamaqua), Derich Holman (Marian), Dylan Quirk (Marian), Brandon Fogel (Tamaqua), Coty Heffelfinger (Panther Valley), Noah Frey (Panther Valley), Nick Hollenbach (Tamaqua), JP O'Conner (Marian), Luke Matasago (Tamaqua) and Austin Resch (Tamaqua).