Naz Smith earns MVP and North dominates all facets in District 4 All-Star football win
DANVILLE–Naz Smith tried guessing the game’s Most Valuable Player before it was announced, never believing he had a shot at the award. Bailey Hadzinikolov and Avery Campbell thought they might never play football again after suffering serious back injuries their junior years.
But there all three were together under the Danville lights Friday night, basking in the glow of a super high school conclusion. They and all their North teammates made their final scholastic football chapter one of their best.
Smith earned the game’s overall MVP award, Hadzinikolov the North Defensive MVP and Campbell helped spark a ferocious defense as the North overwhelmed the South in the renewal of the District 4 All-Star game, winning, 36-0. The pandemic had shut the game down the past two seasons and the North all-stars helped bring it back with a dominant overall performance, scoring 22 first-quarter points and cruising from there in front of a large crowd.
“After my senior year was cut short it was kind of devastating. That final shot of playing high school football is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, especially after putting that goose egg up there,” Campbell said. “It was a breathtaking experience. “We all knew what we were fighting for, and we came together as a team, and we attacked it and got it.”
“I made a lot of friends here and I’m definitely going to miss them,” Smith said after catching four passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in less than a half. “I wish this could go on all summer but sadly we can’t, but I’m glad I got to be a part of this.”
It felt like this game could go on forever and the South might still struggle scoring against a North defense which would have made the Steel Curtain envious. That unit surrendered just 86 yards and two first downs on 33 plays. Jersey Shore’s Karter Peacock recovered a fumble at the 3-yard line to set up the game’s first touchdown and Canton’s Caiden Williams returned an interception 16 yards for another score just five seconds later.
So devastating was the North defense that it did not allow a first down until 10 minutes, 20 seconds remained in the game. It did not the South cross midfield until the fourth quarter and shined at all three levels, cutting off all avenues.
“Our d-line was playing lights out and they kind of set the tone for the entire game,” said Hadzinikolov, the Muncy linebacker who fought back from a broken back as a junior to earn all-state honors last fall. “The d-line playing really well made it kind of easy for everyone else to follow in their footsteps.”
Early on, both defenses looked nasty and neither team produced a first down in the first eight minutes. Everything changed, though, when the South muffed a punt and Peacock landed on it at the 3. Montoursville’s Rocco Pulizzi (the North Offensive MVP who ran for 60 yards on nine carries) scored a play later and his teammate Maddix Dalena found Hadzinikolov for a 2-point conversion.
Just a play later, Williams, another all-state selection, jumped all over an attempted screen pass. Williams intercepted it in the backfield and raced 16 yards for the touchdown. In five seconds, the North put up 15 points and the rout was on.
“Everyone knew what we were after; everyone knew what the prize was; everybody knew what was at stake and that’s the biggest thing,” Campbell, the Williamsport defensive end, said after collecting a sack, forcing a fumble and consistently pressuring the quarterback. “The bottom line is we wanted this more. We trained really hard for this, and the scoreboard says it.”
Campbell said the defense did some extra bonding after practices during the week and instantly built some chemistry. A team filled with rivals who played against each other all their lives looked like a band of brothers and flowed as one wherever South players went.
Entering the fourth quarter, the North defense surrendered just 25 yards on 23 plays. Jersey Shore defensive end Connor Davis set the tone on the game’s first play when he dropped Nate Aument for a four-yard loss. Peacock and Cowanesque Valley’s Kade Sottolano added sacks and South Williamsport’s Jake Casella knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage as every defender did his part to help take over the game.
“We did a lot of 1-on-1s at practices with linemen going against each other and corners against receivers and things like that where it was best vs best,” Hadzinikolov said. “It was a lot of competitions like that. It was like iron sharpening iron, and I think that helped us.”
“They were phenomenal,” Smith said about practicing against the defense. Our d-line, every time we ran the ball, they stopped someone at the line. Nothing got past them.”
Smith, though, blew past the South defense.
The Loyalsock wide receiver and Montgomery quarterback Logan Almeida played pitch and catch on the North’s next series following Williams’ interception. Almedia first found Smith for a 36-yard gain on a deep ball over the middle on third-and-9. Two plays later, Smith torched his defender and Montgomery’s all-time leading passer hit him in stride for a 35-yard touchdown as the North went up, 22-0.
Smith had three catches for 73 yards in the first quarter and helped set up the next touchdown with his final catch, producing 81 yards in 16 minutes. The jolt he provided the offense had Smith near the top of the MVP candidate list even if he did not realize it.
“It’s amazing. I wasn’t even expecting it. I was standing there trying to figure out who was going to get it,” Smith said. “When they said it might be me, I was like, ‘No that’s out of the question.'”
Almeida, Dalena and Williamsport quarterback Frankie Morrone all threw the ball well. They also each ripped off runs of 11 or more yards and the offensive line started asserting itself in the second quarter with North Penn-Mansfield’s Cam Fabian ending a well-conceived drive with a 1-yard touchdown.
The North led 29-0 at halftime but stayed hungry. The line paved the way for a 12-play, 71-yard drive on the third-quarter’s first series with Pulizzi ripping off a 28-yard run on fourth-and-1 before Dalena capped the march with a 1-yard touchdown.
The defense took it from there and made a strong recovery after the South mounted its lone scoring threat. After the South moved to the North 18, Campbell forced a fumble which resulted in a five-yard loss. Sottolano added a sack two plays later and the pass rush swarmed South Offensive MVP Pedro Feliciano on fourth down, resulting in a hurried throw and an incompletion.
“At half we were like keep the foot on the gas and don’t let them even think about scoring. That was the enthusiasm that what we wanted,” Campbell said. “I never got to play with any of these guys. It was really an honor playing with them and for them. It was everything and everyone connecting that really made it fun.”
North 36, South 0
North 22 7 7 0–36
South 0 0 0 0–0
N–Rocco Pulizzi 3 run (Maddix Dalena pass to Bailey Hadzinikolov), 3:34
N–Caiden Williams 16-yard interception return (Isaiah Fenner kick), 3:29
N–Naz Smith 35 pass from Logan Almeida (Fenner kick), :14.1
N–Cam Fabian 1 run (Fenner kick), 7:12
N–Dalena 1 run (Fenner kick), 6:06
TEAM STATISTICS N S
First Downs 14 2
Rushes-yards 34-185 20-4
Passing yards 143 82
Total yards 328 86
Comp-Att-Int 11-18-1 4-13-1
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 1-5 2-10
Punts-Avr. 2-40 6-44.7
RUSHING YARDS: North, Rocco Pulizzi 9-60, TD; Cam Fabian 11-32, TD; Logan Almeida 4-32; Frankie Morrone 2-25; Maddix Dalena 4-23, TD; Naz Smith 1-6; Bailey Hadzinikolov 2-4; Isaiah Fenner 1-3. South, Coltyn Sempko 3-11; Thomas Davitt 1-3; Julien Stellar 5-3; Nathan Aument 1-(-5); Pedro Feliciano 10-(-8).
PASSING YARDS: North, Almeida 2-4-1, 71 yards, TD; Morrone 4-7-0, 42 yards; Dalena 5-7-0, 30 yards. South, Feliciano 4-13-1, 82 yards.
RECEIVING YARDS: North, Smith 4-81; Cayden Hess 3-24; JerVal Weeks-Shuler 2-39; Hadzinikolov 1-3; Cooper Kitchen 1-(-4). South, Stellar 1-20; Aidan Herb 1-14; Sempko 1-11; Aidan Kritzer 1-8.
INTERCEPTIONS: North, Caiden Williams. South, Herb.
SACKS: North, Avery Campbell, Karter Peacock, Kade Sottolano.