BIG-SCHOOL GAME: South 'gels' into victorious team

Chris Easterling
Updated: Monday, May 1, 2017
Warren Harding's Lynn Bowden tries to avoid a South defender during the North-South big-school game.<br /><div id="dfp-300x250" style="float:right;"><script type="text/javascript">googletag.display("dfp-300x250");</script></div>
Warren Harding's Lynn Bowden tries to avoid a South defender during the North-South big-school game.


MASSILLON  Five practices. That's all the teams in the Ohio North-South All-Star Football Classic essentially had to get themselves ready for Saturday's games.

There are teams which can utilize a month's worth of practice and still come out in their debut looking like they needed a month's worth of time still to gel together. Then there was the South team in Saturday's big-school (Division I-III) game, which found played like a team which had been practicing for five weeks, not five days, in a 38-34 come-from-behind win over the North at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.

No place was that more evident than along the one unit which so often needs so much time to come together: Offensive line. That line was a big reason why the South was able to go to the ground in the fourth quarter to grind its way to the comeback win.

"Over these last few days, man, I've gotten a chance to bond with all of these great linemen," said Huber Heights Wayne lineman Ben Jackson, who was chosen as the South's Offensive Player of the Game. "All of them were greatly selected and everything. We just kind of put it together and we had one goal, and that was to smash the ball on that defense."

The man who benefited the most from that line's quick cohesion was Franklin Heights' running back Brenden Knox. Knox rushed for a game-high 166 yards on 21 carries, while scoring a trio of touchdowns.

Two of Knox's three scores came in the third quarter, helping the South rally from a 28-14 halftime deficit to enter the fourth quarter tied at 28-28.

"Coming together, we all come from different parts," said Knox, who is heading to Marshall University. "It took some time to just come together. We just put everything together today, and it all worked out well."

The South would score on its final four possessions to rally from the 14-point halftime deficit. The first two ended with Knox runs; then Newark's Jed Quackenbush put it in front for good with an 18-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.

Connor Gessels added a 26-yard touchdown catch from Newark's Kaleb Jarrett with a 1:02 remaining to make it 38-28 South. That was one of two South touchdown passes: Harrison's Gerald Smith caught a screen pass from Reynoldsburg's Nate Barko and raced 77 yards for a score to tie the game at 14-14 in the first quarter.

The two South quarterbacks, Jarrett and Barko, combined to throw for 266 yards. The Ball State-bound Smith caught four passes for 120 yards and a score; the Ohio State-bound Gessels had four for 72 yards and a touchdown.

"In the end, in this game as much as it's changed, it really hasn't changed," South coach Doug Frye of St. Mary's Memorial said. "It's still a game of teamwork. It's a game of emotion. You have to be coachable and you have to gel quickly. You have to adapt."

Coming into the game, the star power - at least to many of those, not surprisingly, in northern part of the state - was with the North team. It boasted two quarterbacks in Midview's Dustin Crum and Warren Harding's Lynn Bowden who had established a reputation for their ability to make plays with their legs as much as their arms.

Two plays into the game, that talent had already showcased itself in helping the North take a 7-0 lead. Bowden, who lined up at receiver to start, took a handoff from Crum on the first play and raced to the right, only to completely reverse field and eventually gain 19 yards to the South 30.

Crum would then go 30 yards on the next play for the first of his two touchdown runs. The problem for the Kent State-bound quarterback - as well as the North - was that the second score came on the final play of the game, a 12-yard run that made the final margin closer.

The Midview senior would finish with 74 rushing yards on 10 carries - 42 of those on his two touchdown runs - while completing 6-of-9 passes for 127 yards. He did help with the one highlight involving a Stark County player in the game: a 7-yard touchdown pass to Massillon's Malcolm Robinson for a 28-14 lead with 1:09 left in the first half.

Bowden, meanwhile, never was able to get loose to do the kind of damage he had done in his previous appearance in Massillon when he rushed for 266 yards and six touchdowns in a Week 3 win over the Tigers in September. The South defense swarmed him after that initial run, holding him to minus-7 yards on his last five carries to give him 12 rushing yards for the game.

The Kentucky-bound quarterback did have a 15-yard catch in the game, as well as a couple of kickoff returns that electrified the crowd even if they didn't end up in huge gains. He had just 54 yards on 3-of-12 passing, with 39 of those coming on a strike to his future Kentucky teammate, Maple Heights' Jalen Richardson, that set up a first-half score.

"We did that by trusting each other on defense," Mount Healthy defensive back Bryan Cook, the South's Defensive Player of the Game, said. "We talk about that all the time in practice. We don't worry about other people's techniques. We let them do their own things. At the same time, you have to have trust in each other. As you can see, we came out with the 'W' today."

Reach Chris at 330-775-1128 or chris.easterling@indeonline.com.

On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE