MANHEIM, Pa. – Zach Zweizig had a lot on his mind Saturday night, but none of it had to do with postgame meal choice or preparations before enrolling at Lafayette College in the fall.
No, the Wilson-West Lawn senior had a lot to worry about, and it lie on the wristband strapped to his left arm, just above the wrist.
“We had to learn lots of offense in the last two weeks,” Zweizig said. “There’s probably 60 plays (on that wristband).”
For all of the offense the South all-star coaching staff from Garden Spot High School installed over the last couple of weeks, it was the defense that reigned supreme this night.
The South forced five North turnovers, including a critical goal-line-stand at its 1-yard line with 10:58 left in the game, to preserve a hard-fought 24-14 victory in the Manheim Touchdown Club’s 10th annual Tri-County All-Star Football Game from a hot and muggy Elden Rettew Stadium in Manheim. The victory is the South’s fifth in the last six years and evened the series at five wins for both sides after the North’s 14-7 victory in 2010 in a defensive struggle.
“The defense made the big plays for us all night long,” said South head coach Matt Zamperini (Garden Spot). “I told the guys if I had to give out a game ball tonight, it would have been for the defense.”
The South’s defense was answering the bell right from the onset, as the North stars strung together three first downs, including one via a 31-yard halfback pass from Michael Smith (Manheim Central) to Lucardy Jean-Francois (Cedar Crest). But on a 3rd-and-12 from the South 31, quarterback Chase Moyer (Manheim Central) saw his pass fall into the arms of Ethan Martin (Lampeter-Strasburg), and the South averted the North’s advance.
Fourteen plays and five first downs later, the South had itself a lead it would not relinquish. After dialing up three consective first downs on Zweizig runs of 18 and 14 yards and a Deron Thompson (Warwick) 12-yard reception, Zweizig hooked up with Teon Lee (Penn Manor) for a 30-yard pass-and-catch before calling his own number from two yards out. The 92-yard drive drained 5:41 off of the clock.
The South pushed its lead to 10-0 on its second possession following a Moyer fumble, as Chris Garraffa (Lampeter-Strasburg) connected on a 27-yard field goal.
Moyer’s night would only get worse – he was intercepted for the second time by the South’s Alex Dienner (Conestoga Valley) with 2:06 left in the first half and sacked for a two-yard loss on the final play of the second stanza. The North had a small march going with :40 left before the half, using receptions of nine and six yards by Tyler George (ELCO) and a Moyer 10-yard run to earn consecutive first downs, but, alas, nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
“We had a little problem underthrowing some balls tonight,” said North head coach Jim Vieland (Ephrata). “That was something we didn’t see at all during practice.”
Zweizig helped push the South’s advantage to a seemingly insurmountable 17-0 when he hooked up with teammate Julian Carabello on a 35-yard scoring strike to cap a 7-play, 68-yard drive to open the second half.
“Carabello made a nice play,” Zweizig said. “I underthrew it a bit (but he made a nice adjustment).”
Down, but not out, the North began its surge. Behind a power running scheme rotating between backs Kevin Coleman (Manheim Township) and Julian Alicea (Hempfield), the North marched 40 yards in six plays (all rushes) and were aided by a South offsides penalty. Coleman (7 rush, 20 yards) crashed in from three yards out to break the goose egg and draw the North to within 10, at 17-7. The scoring drive was set up by a Brandon Artman (Manheim Central) 49-yard kickoff return.
And after Gavin Session (Ephrata) recovered a Zweizig fumble at the South 40 yard line with 3:46 left in the third quarter, the North appeared to be in business. Aided by two South penalties which each resulted in first downs, the North marched to the South 3 and faced a fourth-and-goal-to-go situation. Alicea’s sixth carry of the drive went left, got stretched wide, and as the Hempfield speedster cut back to the inside, he was stuffed at the 1-yard line. The South’s defense had stood tall.
“The goal-line stand was a crtitical moment,” Zamperini said.
“I thought we outplayed them in the second half,” Vieland said. “We wanted to get the passing out of the way (in the first half) so we could nickle-and-dime them in the second half.” (Game rules require teams to pass on 40 percent of total plays run).
Andy Breault (Elizabethtown) brought the North to within 17-14 when he found Tyler George (ELCO, 3 rec., 53 yds.) on a 34-yard scoring pass with 3:22 left in regulation. The scoring pass was one of only two completions for the Bears’ field general, but it was a big one, as the North was now just one defensive stand away from a potential lead.
It never happened.
On the South’s ensuing possession, Ben Meyers (Pequea Valley) found a streaking Demetrious Dixon (Penn Manor) on a 63-yard scoring pass and the South’s narrow lead was beefed back up to 10 points. Meyers was only 2-of-10 this night, but Dixon was on the receiving end of both connections for 86 yards. That big play came on a 3rd-and-23 situation.
“They ran a hitch and go and our guy bit on the post,” Vieland said. “It was 3rd-and-23…you don’t worry about the hitch there.
“I’m proud of how our guys played,” Vieland continued. “They (the South) had very highly touted backs and a lot of talent over there. Nobody probably gave us much of a chance and we were only down three to them.”
Zweizig stole the show offensively for the South, throwing for 98 yards and a score and running for a team-best 45 yards and a score on seven rushes. Backs Thompson (Warwick, 5 rush, 21 yards), Austin Hartman (Cocalico, 6 rush, 34 yards) and Markeith Williams (J.P. McCaskey, 9 rush, 12 yards) helped pace a South ground game which chewed up 129 yards on 30 carries. All told, the South amassed 336 yards of offense and 14 first downs.
The North was paced by Alicea’s 10 rushes for 54 yards and Moyer’s 51 rushing yards on six carries, part of an overall rushing attack which accounted for 133 yards on 30 carries. Four different North players attempted passes, with Moyer pacing the quartet on a 13-of-26 night for 85 yards, but included in that stat line were three interceptions. Breault finished 2-of-4 for 51 yards and the touchdown pass. The North finished with 301 yards of offense and 19 first downs, but also had five total turnovers (3 interceptions, 1 fumble, 1 on downs).