UNION – Pretty standard football discussion includes arguments about what offense to run or what defense to be in.
But what about special teams?
That part of the game – often ignored – is just as important as offense and defense.
For the South, excelling on special teams was – perhaps – the biggest reason why it came out on top again.
The South was sparked by three field goals in four attempts from Vincent Mota of Long Branch and on the first play of the second half Matt Castranova of Jackson returned the kickoff 100 yards to give the South back the lead.
In addition, the South scored 10 points off North turnovers – the North turned the ball over three times total – including scoring three after the North lost a fumble on a punt return in the second quarter and then in the third quarter the North lost a fumble on a kickoff return, with the South following that up by scoring seven points to add to its lead.
Then with the game on the line, South defensive lineman Quylil Maxwell (No. 76) of Mater Dei sacked North quarterback Rylan Panghorn of Lenape Valley in South territory on the final play to clinch the South’s 18th victory and second straight.
The South held on to edge the North 23-21 in Monday night’s 37th annual Phil Simms North-South High School All-Star Football Classic, which was held at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium for the sixth time and first time since 2013.
SOUTH OFFENSIVE MVP: Vincent Mota, Long Branch, PK
SOUTH DEFENSIVE MVP: Justin Thompson, Palmyra, L
NORTH OFFENSIVE MVP: Juwan Dolbrice, Linden, KR-QB
NORTH DEFENSIVE MVP: Tevaughn Grant, Paterson Eastside, L
The South, with Mota gaining South Offensive MVP honors, now leads the series 18-16-2.
The North, which led last year’s game at Piscataway High School going into the fourth quarter before falling 20-14, has still never led in the series and will now have to win the next three games in order to do so for the first time.
The South overcame deficits of 7-6 at the half and 14-13 early in the third quarter to take control.
After missing his first field goal attempt of 33 yards wide right with 5:55 left in the first quarter, Mota came back to nail a 45-yarder with just 55 seconds left in the period to put the South ahead 3-0.
Mota then made a 37-yarder with 6:20 to go in the second quarter to make it 6-0.
A sack by North lineman Leonard Watts of Barringer led to the North driving down field right before the half for its first score. Panghorn completed a pass to a wide-open Lucas Faria of Sparta that put the ball on the South five-yard line with just 38 seconds left in the second quarter.
After wide receiver Justice Stewart of Union had the ball knocked away from him in the end zone on first down, Panghorn then threw a perfect pass over the shoulder of Seton Hal Prep’s Vincent Nisivoccia, who against single coverage came down with the soft toss in the left corner of the end zone for the North’s first points.
Matt Ferrera of Cresskill followed up with the first of his three extra-point kicks to give the North its first lead of 7-6 with 27 seconds remaining before intermission.
Stewart, the son of former Union All-America and 1986 graduate Tony Stewart, caught three passes, two in the first half from Panghorn and one in the second half from Juwan Dolbrice of Linden, who was named the North’s Offensive MVP for his performance returning kickoffs and punts and his play at quarterback.
After Castranova’s kickoff return put the South ahead again, the North came right back. With Dolbrice behind center, the talented runner found room on the left side and then tossed a shovel pass to Matt McFadden of Morristown-Beard.
McFadden quickly found a hole in the middle of the field, sprinted through it, and managed to reach the end zone on a play that covered 53 yards. Ferrera’s second extra point gave the North its second and final lead of 14-13.
The South came right back. Some seven minutes later in the third quarter, with 5:50 to go, Mota connected on a 35-yard field goal to put the South ahead for good at 16-14.
The South then regained possession by recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. A horse-collar tackle by the North that resulted in a 15-yard penalty put the ball on the North 14 with just over four minutes to go in the period.
Eluding an on-coming rush, South quarterback Connor Davies of Lacey first moved right and then found Terence Young of Iselin Kennedy open on the right side of the end zone for the South’s second and final touchdown. Mota’s second extra point and 11th point of the game put the South lead at 23-14.
The score remained that way until North defensive linemen Tevaughn Grant of Paterson Eastside – the North’s Defensive MVP – came up with a fumble recovery after the ball was knocked loose from the South quarterback.
With just 3:50 to go and the ball on the South 15, the North wasted no time getting one of the two scores it needed. Panghorn – who on the North’s previous possession was intercepted by Marshe Terry of Northern Burlington deep in South territory – quickly made up for that errant throw.
On the first play of the possession, Panghorn fired a ball right into the arms of Ugo Ezemma of St. Joe’s, Montvale, with the wide receiver cutting across the middle and into the end zone for the game’s final score.
After wisely using its final timeouts and the defense making a stop, the North got the ball back one more time, with Panghorn moving the ball down field as deep as the South 42 before the game’s final drive stalled.
Once again the South proved to be just a bit better in taking a two-game series lead.
LINDEN’S DOLBRICE SHOWED FLASHES OF BRILLIANCE
Linden’s Juwan Dolbrice almost broke the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown, later in the game sprinted through the middle of the field on another kickoff return for big yardage and then guided the North to a touchdown the first time he came in at quarterback.
After leading Linden to its first state championship in 29 years last fall, his talents were on display on a big stage and against the best players in the state.
The American International College-bound all-purpose performer didn’t disappoint.
“This was a good experience, getting to meet new people and just being part of a great atmosphere,” said Dolbrice, who played on state championship basketball and football teams at Linden. “I was a bit nervous at first, but felt I picked it up in the second half.”
Dolbrice threw two touchdown passes and scored the winning touchdown on a kickoff return in Linden’s 27-20 win over Elizabeth in last December’s North 2, Group 5 championship game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. He also clinched the victory by coming up with an interception in the right corner of the Linden end zone.
“In the beginning of camp I was bad, I wasn’t completing anything,” Dolbrice said of his passing. “The coaches helped me pick it up. Even though we didn’t win this was a lot of fun.”
Dolbrice will now be playing on the Division 2 level in Springfield, Mass.
“They run the Wildcat and I may get to play quarterback,” Dolbrice said.
“Juwan felt right at home there,” said out-going Linden mentor and North assistant coach Deon Candia.
Candia, a 1991 Linden graduate, played at AIC in the 1990s. He first made the announcement of stepping down from coaching – in order to earn a doctorate degree – at Linden’s post-season football banquet.
Candia was the head coach at Linden for seven seasons from 2008-2014, finishing with a record of 42-32 (.568) that included three consecutive playoff appearances and one state championship, the program’s first since Linden captured North 2, Group 3 in 1985.
Candia also guided the Tigers to the 2014 Mid-State 38 Conference’s Watchung Division title, Linden finishing a perfect 7-0 in league play. Linden won the Watchung Division title for the first time and captured a division title for the first time since the 1990s.
“I’ll miss it,” said Candia, who also served as an assistant coach at Linden. “This was a great opportunity, to coach in this game.
“There’s such a talented group of kids here. They’re well-coached and well-mannered. The kids really picked up on things.”
WEST ESSEX’S McDONALD WAS DIFFICULT TO GET PAST
North defensive lineman Marc McDonald of West Essex was not satisfied until he brought down whichever South player had the ball.
Many times it was South quarterbacks who felt his wrath.
McDonald’s second sack came on the last play of the first half after the North had just taken its first lead.
The 6-2, 235-pounder continued to be a force to be reckoned with in the second half in his continued pursuit of every ball-carrier he attempted to chase down.
37th ANNUAL PHIL SIMMS NORTH-SOUTH
HIGH SCHOOL ALL-STAR FOOTBALL CLASSIC
SOUTH (18-16-2) 3 3 17 0 – 23
NORTH (16-18-2) 0 7 7 7 – 21
SOUTH – FG Vincent Mota 45 (S 3-0)
SOUTH – FG Vincent Mota 37 (S 6-0)
NORTH – Vincent Nisivoccia 5 pass from Rylan Panghorn, Matt Ferrera kick (N 7-6)
SOUTH – Matt Castranova 100 kickoff return, Vincent Mota kick (S 13-7)
NORTH – Matt McFadden 53 pass from Juwan Dolbrice, Matt Ferrera kick (N 14-13)
SOUTH – FG Vincent Mota 35 (S 16-14)
SOUTH – Terence Young 18 pass from Connor Davies, Vincent Mota kick (S 23-14)
NORTH – Ugo Ezemma 15 pass from Rylan Panghorn, Matt Ferrera kick (S 23-21)