SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The South certainly had its share of splash plays, especially from receiver Curon Cordon. But the rest of the game went quite swimmingly for the North.
Colby Brown threw for a pair of second-quarter touchdowns Saturday afternoon and the North later added big plays on defense and special teams to earn a 42-20 victory in the 65th WCHS-TV Fox-11 North-South Football Classic at sultry South Charleston High School.
The North earned its third straight win in a series that began in 1934 - its longest run since taking four in a row from 1999-2002.
"They overcame a lot," said North coach Brad Jett, recently retired from South Harrison High School. "A lot of them are four, five, six hours from home, and they overcame a lot, and that means a lot to me. They all blended together and fought hard to win today."
Six different players scored touchdowns for the North, which led 21-13 at halftime and clamped down defensively in the second half, holding the South to four first downs, 113 total yards and just 1 of 5 on third-down conversions following the break. The North also turned in four quarterback sacks.
Defensive backs Brett Tharp (East Hardy) and John Merica (Bridgeport) salted it away for the North on a 93-degree day with fourth-quarter return scores - Tharp on a 30-yard punt return and Merica with a 90-yard interception return with 7:42 left.
Tharp, who was voted MVP for the North, also intercepted a second-quarter pass and returned it to the South 32 to set up a touchdown.
"In our defense, I'm covering the flat," said Tharp, an all-state receiver who is headed to Bridgewater College near Harrisonburg, Virginia. "I baited him to throw to the flat so I could run up behind and get it.
"I love playing defense. Wherever they play me, I'll do what I can."
His short punt return score came on the third play of the fourth quarter to really break the South's back, turning a one-score game at 28-20 into a 35-20 advantage. Players on both teams seemed confused and backed off a shanked 14-yard punt, but Tharp scooped it up on the run and hit paydirt.
"As soon as I saw it bounce and no one was there," Tharp said, "I figured I'd pick it up and go for it, and I had the blocking out there."
Those two return TDs ended a frustrating day for the South, which wound up with nearly 100 more total yards than the North (323-225) and forced two turnovers. However, neither of those turnovers resulted in points for the South, while the two turnovers forced by the North each led to scores.
"They won the turnover part of the game," said South coach John Mustain (James Monroe). "That obviously made the difference in the game. We did a lot of good things, but had a few misfires there early on and the turnovers definitely went their way.
"They had a lot of pressure on us, had us scrambling and had some sacks to start the third quarter - two or three in a row that really hurt. All in all, it was a good game, but turnovers make the difference and that's all there is to it."
The North got its first-half scores on three passing plays - a 27-yard toss to Ethan Secrist (Brooke) from Kobie Carpenter (Lincoln), a 19-yard pass from Brown (Cameron) to Bryson Gilbert (Fairmont Senior) and a 64-yarder from Brown to Brady Ours (Keyser).
The South, meanwhile, was getting a lot of mileage out of Cordon, a receiver from Hurricane who is headed to Palmetto Prep in Columbia, South Carolina. Cordon caught eight passes for 116 yards and all three South TDs (on plays of 28, 1 and 59 yards), completed a pass for 32 yards, returned a kickoff 37 yards and ran four times for 10 yards.
"We hurt ourselves a lot," Jett said of his defense, which gave up 311 yards passing. "We knew what to do and where to line up, but a couple times we blew some coverages, and you're going to have that in an all-star game from them being together for five days, actually."
South quarterback Andrew Huff (Winfield) wound up playing more than three quarters of the game after Buffalo's Ethan Burgess suffered an arm injury. Huff completed 15 of 30 attempts for 209 yards and three TDs with two picks. Burgess was 4 for 4 for 70 yards.
Tucker Lilly (Summers County) was a solid complement for the speedy Cordon, catching seven passes for 125 yards for the South. However, much like last year, the South got nothing going on the ground, gaining 12 yards on 25 rushing plays. In last year's 10-7 loss, the South netted 18 yards on 28 carries.
"I just feel like we played to the best of our ability," said Cordon, voted the South's MVP. "We couldn't get it done. But I had fun with all the guys. I had fun with everybody on my team, and congratulations to the other team."
The kicking game also hurt the South, which averaged 19.7 yards on three punts and allowed kickoff returns of 40 and 31 yards to the North's Robert Sanders (University) and 45 yards to Seth Arnold (Braxton County) and Tharp's punt runback.
North quarterback Brown (Cameron) led his team in passing (3 of 6 for 90 yards) and nearly in rushing (five carries, 28 yards).
It all made for a nice parting gift for Jett, who like the South's Mustain, stepped down after 34 seasons of coaching at his school.
"As long as I was at South Harrison, I always felt like I was a winner," Jett said. "With these young men here, I couldn't ask for a better group to go out with."
The game was switched to South Charleston High School after decades at University of Charleston Stadium/Laidley Field, which was unavailable when the game was moved up a week so it wouldn't conflict with the statewide three-week summer practice period.
Honored before the game were recent North-South Hall of Fame inductees Quincy Wilson, the former Weir all-stater who played running back at WVU and the NFL, and Bill Legg, the Poca native and former Marshall University offensive coordinator.
NORTH 7 14 7 14 - 42
SOUTH 7 6 7 0 - 20
N - Secrist 27 pass from Carpenter (Gheen kick), 11:01
S - Cordon 28 pass from Huff (Casto kick), 4:22
N - Gilbert 19 pass from Brown (Gheen kick), 9:15
N - Ours 64 pass from Brown (Gheen kick), 5:37
S - Cordon 1 pass from Huff (kick failed), 2:13
N - Northcraft 8 run (Gheen kick), 7:06
S - Cordon 59 pass from Huff (Casto kick), 4:56
N - Tharp 30 punt return (Gheen kick), 11:28
N - Merica 90 interception return (Gheen kick), 7:42
N / S
First downs 10 / 16
Rushes-yards 26-71 / 25-12
Passing yards 154 / 311
Passes 8-17-1 / 20-35-2
Total yards 225 / 323
Fumbles-lost 2-1 / 0-0
Penalties-yards 7-81 / 9-99
Punts-average 2-36.5 / 3-19.7
RUSHING - (North) Northcraft 12-34, Brown 5-28, Junkins 1-14, Carpenter 3-10, Canary 2-4, Gilbert 3-minus-19. (South) Burgess 3-15, Swafford 8-11, Cordon 4-10, Moore 1-8, Blankenship 1-minus-2, Huff 8-minus-30.
PASSING - (North) Brown 3-6-0-90, Carpenter 5-11-1-64. (South) Huff 15-30-2-209, Burgess 4-4-0-70, Cordon 1-1-0-32.
RECEIVING - (North) Ours 2-83, Gilbert 2-20, Canary 2-18, Secrist 1-27, Stahl 1-6. (South) Cordon 8-116, Lilly 7-125, Cannady 2-14, Moore 1-42, Persinger 1-8, Williams 1-6.