Alex Starmack never played defense prior to Friday night. The Lewisburg graduate lined up on the defensive line anyway and tipped a pass while adding a sack.
Loyalsock safety Mike Dougherty had one last chance to show the district that despite being one of its smallest players, he also was one of its premier ones. He did so with gusto, making five tackles and delivering some of the game's biggest hits. The final score of last night's District 4 North-South All-Star Game at South Williamsport's Rodney K. Morgans Stadium will fade in coming years. The memories those players and so many others created will not.
Danville's Brett Berg caught two long touchdown passes and totaled 208 total yards while catching the go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown pass as the South rallied for a 45-28 win. The South won its third straight in this annual all-star game and dominated the fourth quarter for a second straight year. Both teams, though, felt good afterward.
"I think this is a game that I will remember the rest of my life and a game I will attend the rest of my life," Dougherty said. "It's a great environment and I love it."
"We just came together and we had a lot of fun at practice," Starmack said. "I really didn't know anybody but (Lewisburg teammate) Kyle (Santorine) and a couple of guys from Selinsgrove from track but we jelled and had a really great time."
So did the fans who watched the teams put together one of the most exciting games in recent memory. The lead changed hands three times, both teams returned long kickoffs for touchdowns and the game featured plenty of big plays and big hits.
Berg earned MVP honors and was the game's difference-maker, catching a 48-yard touchdown pass from Central Columbia's Jordan Thivierge (3 touchdowns, 71 yards) to put the South ahead to stay, 31-28 with 8:34 remaining. He also caught a 70-yard touchdown from Thivierge with 6.5 seconds remaining in the first half as the South took a 14-7 halftime lead and then set up Cole Rickert's 8-yard touchdown run with a 28-yard halftime option pass to the Line Mountain quarterback as the South went up 21-7 early in the third quarter.
"Our quarterbacks did an amazing job getting me the ball. All I had to was run under it and get it. It was really nothing on my part," said Berg, who will walk-on at Bucknell in the fall. "We figured they could stick me anywhere because I knew the whole offense."
The North countered and scored 21 of the next 24 points. An interception and fumble recovery by Athens' Mike Estes and Montoursville's Matt Krezmer set up consecutive North touchdowns that tied the game 21-21 late in the third quarter. South Williamsport running back Brandon Stonge and South quarterback Tyler House scored those touchdowns, running in from 5 and 10 yards, respectively.
After Dylan Swank kicked a 29-yard field goal on the fourth-quarter's first play, Athens Ray McDougan scored on an electrifying 72-yard kickoff return to give the North its first lead since he had caught a 25-yard touchdown from House in the first quarter. McDougan broke out of a crowd near midfield, reversed field, went all the way across the field and then exploded down the right sideline.
The South dominated from there, however. The South was especially strong after a fight broke out midway through the fourth quarter. Two South players were ejected but it put the game away less than three minutes later when Southern Columbia quarterback Taylor Young scored on a 64-yard run. Starmack was part of a defense that held the North to two fourth-quarter yards while intercepting two passes and adding a sack.
"I'm proud to play with these guys and we had a great coaching staff," said Starmack, who will attend Slippery Rock in the fall. "We fought and it was all about heart. We wanted it and we came out and got it."
Dougherty was one of several area players who had strong games for the North. His Loyalsock teammates Aaron Hepburn and Cody McCracken combined for 10 tackles while House produced two touchdowns and Canton's Eddie Larcom intercepted two passes. Larcom intercepted those first-half passes on consecutive South offensive plays and snuffed out potential South scoring drives both times.
Those are the types of plays these new friends who used to be rivals will remember most as the years go by.
"I just wanted to go out with a bang. It was my last game ever and I wanted to fly around and have a blast," said Dougherty, who is attending Penn State in the fall. "That's pretty much what I did and our whole team did. Despite the loss I think our whole team played well.
"We all came together. It was the best."
North7 0 14 7-28
South7 7 7 24-45
N-Ray McDougan 25 pass from Tyler House (Austin Robinson kick), 5:12
S-Joey Kleman 81 kickoff return (Dylan Swank kick), 4:57
S-Brett Berg 70 pass from Cole Rickert (Swank kick), :6.5
S-Rickert 8 run (Swank kick), 11:12
N-Brandon Stonge 5 run (Robinson kick), 5:42
N-House 10 run (Ryan Bogaczyk kick), 2:40
S-Swank 29-yard field goal, 12:00
N-McDougan 72 yard kickoff return (Robinson kick), 11:40
S-Berg 48 pass from Thivierge (Swank kick), 8:34
S-Rickert 20 pass from Thivierge, 6:13
S-Taylor Young 64 run (kick failed), 3:37
TEAM STATISTICSN S
First downs10 12
Passing Yards88 240
RUSHING: North, Brandon Stonge 11-37, TD; Devin Miller 7-34; Matt Krezmer 2-4; Matt Bartholomew 4-4; Tyler House 2-0, TD; Aaron Cole 1-(-3); Ryan Bogaczyk 1-(-6); Team 1-(-8). South, Taylor Young 5-66, TD; Mike Walter 10-43; Cole Rickert 2-17, TD; Eric McCracken 5-10; Jarred Fogelman 3-6; Cale Rice 1-4; Brett Berg 1-3.
PASSING: North, House 7-10-0, TD, 81 yards; Cole 1-4-1, 7 yards; Bogaczyk 0-3-1. South, Thivierge 5-7-1, 3 TDs, 160 yards; Young 1-2-1, 59 yards; Berg 1-1-0, 8 yards; Rickert 3-6-1, 21 yards.
RECEIVING: North, Ray McDougan 4-46, TD; Sam Bohnert 3-40; Stonge 1-2. South, Berg 3-177, 2 TDs; Jeremy Renn 2-16; Fogelman 2-15; Rickert 1-20, TD; Walter 1-12.
INTERCEPTIONS: North, Eddie Larcom 2, Mike Estes. South, Rickert, Andrew Hasuga.
Coaches Awards: North, Eddie Larcom, Canton; Aaron Hepburn, Loyalsock; South, Jake Becker, Southern Columbia
North Defensive MVP: Mike Estes, Athens. North Offensive MVP: Ray McDougan, Athens. South Defensive MVP: Mike Yucha, Shamokin; South Offensive MVP: Cole Rickert, Line Mountain
Game MVP: Brett Berg, Danville