SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Wayne's Mike Bartram summed up his team's view of the North-South Football Classic high school all-star game Saturday afternoon.
"We played really well," said Bartram, a linebacker who assisted on three tackles for the South. "They were down in the red zone a couple of times and we stopped them and held them out. Just one play beat us."
The South Cardinals held the North Bears to 174 total yards, but 73 came on the "one play" Bartram mentioned. Quarterback Connor Neal found his Fairmont Senior teammate and North most valuable player Rhett Heston in a seam and hit him for a 73-yard touchdown pass with 8:27 left in the third quarter to break a 0-0 tie. Neal then threw to wide-open D'Andre Hollaway of Bridgeport for the winning two-point conversion.
The South stuffed the run, allowing merely 26 yards on 24 carries. The Cardinals allowed Bears quarterbacks to complete just 7 of 25 passes and intercepted two. Jacob Hensley of Sherman picked off both in earning South MVP honors.
"The defense played real well," said Spring Valley cornerback Tyson Hall, a Kentucky Christian University signee who broke up three passes and made two tackles. "We did everything we could. We kind of struggled on offense to get stuff going and to get plays where we needed to go. We played our hearts out and that's all you can ask for."
Hall suffered a shoulder injury after he made a big hit on Musselman quarterback Tre Beard midway through the first quarter.
Hall sat out a series and returned early in the second quarter. Three plays after he came back, he broke up a pass by Kennedy Award winner Neal for Fairmont Senior's Exavier Posey in the end zone. Two plays later, the South used a goal-line stand at the 2 to prevent a touchdown and get the ball back.
On the North's next possession, Neal lateraled to Beard, who threw deep for Posey, but Capital defensive back Quisean Gray broke up the pass. After another incomplete pass, the Bears punted.
"I'm surprised, actually," Gray said of how well the South played in the lowest-scoring game since 2015 when the South won 7-0. "I thought we'd come down here and there would be a lot of missed gaps and stuff, but we battled. I'm excited for all of us. I was surprised.
"We stepped up."
Gray delivered one of the more jarring hits of the game early in the third quarter when he raced from the secondary to smash into Dalton Pollack, preventing the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder from gaining more than 4 yards.
"Yeah, I had to get that one," Gray said with a laugh.
The Cougar senior said he was pleased with his team's performance, but not his own.
"I think I could have done better and gotten more tackles," Gray said.
Gray, a University of Pikeville recruit, sounded a lot like his Capital teammate Kalai Clark, a 6-1, 286-pound defensive lineman who signed with Antelope Valley (California) Junior College.
"It was a defensive game," said Clark said, who made four tackles. "We all played good. Personally, I feel I could've played better. It was a good game. It was really a good defensive game, old fashioned like I like it."
The highlight for Clark was displaying surprising speed when he raced down the line to tackle Pollock on a sweep for a four-yard loss.
"I'm a chase-down artist," Clark said, with a chuckle.