SCHUYLKILL HAVEN - In many ways, the Schuylkill County Football Coaches Association Senior All-Star Classic isn't about who wins and who loses.
Put simply, the game serves as a means for some of Schuylkill County's finest players to suit up one more time with teammates and longtime rivals in a way not possible during the regular season.
It was fitting, then, that the North and South squads played to a 6-6 tie in this year's edition, held at Schuylkill Haven's Rotary Field on Wednesday.
"It's our last game and we just want to come out and have fun with each other," said Tamaqua's Tyler Hope, MVP of the North team. "When it comes to the game, it gets competitive, and of course we want to win. But we just came out and enjoyed our last high school football game together."
Hope wasted little time making his presence felt, breaking a 57-yard run for a score on the second play of the game to put the North squad up 6-0. The senior finished with 63 yards rushing and a score on just five carries.
The performance came as no surprise to North coach Sam Bonner, who watched Hope pile up 350 yards and four scores for Tamaqua on the same field just over a month ago.
"He kind of showed (tonight) what he did for us during the second half of the season," Bonner said. "He runs the ball tough and doesn't go down easy. He's a gamer."
The North team (Panther Valley, Tamaqua, Marian Catholic, Jim Thorpe, North Schuylkill, Mahanoy Area, Shenandoah Valley) held the South squad (Minersville, Tri-Valley, Schuylkill Haven, Nativity, Pottsville, Pine Grove, Blue Mountain, Williams Valley) scoreless through the first quarter as the wind howled and a light snow fell.
The North squad appeared to have momentum on its side after the South's Luke Heffron (Minersville) lost a fumble, ending a promising drive deep in North territory.
But the swing was short lived, as South defensive back Tristan Dickey (Blue Mountain) returned a Nate Edmonds (Tamaqua) pass for a touchdown to tie the game 6-6 with 10:26 remaining in the second quarter. Dickey was the MVP of the South team.
With the game still deadlocked late in the third quarter, the South would again use an Edmonds interception in an attempt to mount a comeback.
But just five plays into the South's next drive, Heffron put the ball on the ground once again, this time in the red zone, thwarting a potential scoring opportunity.
North linebacker Lukas Damian (Marian Catholic) foiled another South drive when he recovered a Steve Zimmerman (Pine Grove) fumble early in the fourth quarter. Damian was a catalyst for a North defense that allowed only 129 yards of total offense in the game and forced three turnovers.
But the South's defense was just as stingy, holding the North team to 141 yards of offense in the contest and preventing it from putting together any lengthy drives.
With time winding down and neither defense willing to budge, it became more and more apparent that the game might very well come down to a special teams play. With each team already missing an extra point, a routine play seemed anything but, especially with snow squalls whipping through the stadium.
As the North squad lined up to punt with :37 left in the contest, a slick ball led to a botched punt attempt and a 31-yard loss, giving the South team great field position at the North five-yard line.
But three plays later, the weather would once again be a factor, as the wind forced a potential game-winning field goal wide with just :23 remaining.
Win, lose or draw, all involved were still thrilled to be able to get one more chance to play the game they love and represent their respective schools.
"It was a great opportunity to be able to come out and play in this game with such great competition," said Panther Valley's Kyle Ferryman.
Marian's Anthony Agosti echoed his new teammate's sentiments.
"To be able to play in this game is a great honor," Agosti said. "I've grown up with so many of these kids and to be able to finish our careers together is really special."
Other TIMES NEWS area players who were members of the North squad include Michael Mulderig (Jim Thorpe), Zac Zucatti (Tamaqua), Michael Malatak (Jim Thorpe), Ryan Saunders (Jim Thorpe), Deonte St. Hill (Jim Thorpe), Josh Lex (Marian), Dustin Vandermartin (Tamaqua), Sam Budusky (Marian), Adam Frantz (Tamaqua), Richard Nase (Panther Valley), Brandon Parramore (Jim Thorpe), Stephen Hall (Marian), Deryk Gibbon (Jim Thorpe), Riley McHugh (Marian), Mark Williams (Panther Valley), Nick Coccio (Tamaqua), Michael Rodgers (Jim Thorpe), Cody Houser (Tamaqua), Seth Hunsicker (Panther Valley), Leo Skotek (Marian) and Mike Grega (Marian).