Following recent scores of 9-7, 7-3 and 14-12 in the North-South All-Star Football Classic, the offenses finally broke out of their lethargy the past two years.
The South cranked out the yards and points in victories of 43-14 last year and 36-28 in overtime in 2012, which begs the question for tonight’s 61st edition of the summertime gridiron game: Can the offenses keep the ball rolling?
Both sides have hinted at putting the ball in the air quite a bit tonight, which could signal more wide-open play when the contest kicks off at 7 at Laidley Field.
South quarterback Isaiah Kinder of Greenbrier East, who threw 25 passes per game as a senior, thought that figure might be just about right for tonight’s game.
“We might stay around that, maybe go over it a little more,’’ said Kinder, who threw for 2,096 yards and 24 touchdowns last fall with the Spartans. “It depends on the game and if they’re blitzing and the coverages they have. We’re going to call it on the line, so it will be fun.’’
North coach Bill Haddox of East Fairmont has heard rumors of the South airing it out, but remains a bit skeptical.
“We’ve practiced for it,’’ Haddox said. “We have our kids prepared for it, but we feel like they may run the ball more because their coach is run-oriented.’’
South coach Lewis McClung didn’t want to tip his hand about the offense that’s being put together by one of his assistant coaches, Gene Morris of Nicholas County.
“[Kinder’s] the real deal,’’ McClung said. “He throws a good ball. He’s very accurate and mobile, and makes plays happen. But I don’t know, I may have a heart attack if we throw the ball that much. I’m used to throwing it three, four times a game.’’
McClung’s QB at Greenbrier West, shifty Malik Boatwright, will be one of three running backs rotating in for the South. Boatwright ran for 1,432 yards and 20 TDs last season.
The other main ball-carriers for the South figure to be Draven Riffe of George Washington (1,699 yards, 21 TDs) and Jalen Jones of Oak Hill (1,647 yards, 21 TDs).
“I feel like with the three backs that we have, everybody can help,’’ Boatwright said. “All three of us are a threat. I don’t think it really matters which one starts or doesn’t start. Whoever you put on the field will be all right.’’
McClung plans to also use Nicholas County’s Tyler Sagraves at quarterback.
For the North, Zach Phillips of Wheeling Park (1,974 yards, 22 TDs) is expected to draw the start under center, with a pair of running backs from Class AA state champion Bridgeport also playing key roles in the backfield — Anthony Bonamico (2,141 yards, 32 TDs) and A.C. Caldera (1,212 yards, 21 TDs).
Versatile Eric Banks of Wheeling Park could be utilized as both a receiver and a runner.
Haddox said both his backup quarterbacks — Aaron Roberts (Parkersburg) and Cody Eversole (Keyser) — will also get reps, with Eversole being more of a running threat.
East Fairmont averaged about 23 passes last season, so the South won’t be the only side hoisting the ball, according to Haddox.
“They know me and they know I’m going to put it in the air,’’ Haddox said. “We’ll have a little fun with it, but we will run it, too. You line up against our team and you don’t know what we’re going to do. Hopefully the kids have a good time.’’
The South defense will be bolstered by three players from Class AAA runner-up Huntington, which allowed only 20 TDs in 14 games last season — lineman Nigale Cabell, linebacker Greg May and defensive back Nick Tubbs.
Buoyed by its offensive surges (483 net yards last year, 543 in 2012), the South has extended its recent superiority in the series, taking seven of the last eight games. That’s bumped the South’s all-time lead in the series to 38-19-3. Last year’s game was tied at 14 at halftime before the South broke loose.
After a grueling week of practice under soaring temperatures, today’s forecast calls for a high of 84 degrees with a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms.
Before the game, Steve Edwards Sr. and Steve Newberry will be inducted into the West Virginia Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame. The ceremony takes place at 1:45 p.m. today at West Virginia State University. Edwards and Newberry will also be introduced at Laidley Field prior to kickoff.
Edwards Sr., the former football coach at George Washington, won the 1982 Class AAA state championship with the Patriots, and the stadium at GW is named after him. Newberry, a former Peterstown multi-sport star, went on to West Virginia University and was a four-year starter in football.
The WVACA and several other organizations will also announce college scholarship award winners during the game.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.