North-South football: No telling what kind of game awaits

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
South’s C. J. Perkins of South Charleston picks up some yards on the ground with North’s Erik Willis of Keyser in pursuit during last year’s North-South game, which featured a record for combined points (77) in a 42-35 win for the North.

So what kind of game should one expect when the North and South collide at 7 p.m. Saturday night at University of Charleston Stadium?

Recent history provides absolutely no clue.

Over the previous three years, the rivals have posted the two highest-scoring games in the history of the summertime all-star contest that began in 1934. And the game in between? The South’s 7-0 win in 2015 marked the lowest-scoring game in the series in 70 years.

So what’s on tap for this, the 64th WCHS-TV 8 Fox 11 North-South Classic? Clearly, it’s anybody’s guess, but with all the offensive firepower each team can flash, it’d be hard to keep the teams from piling up plenty of points.

Admission at the gate is $8 for all fans.

The North halted a six-game losing streak with last year’s 42-35 triumph that featured 11 touchdowns, 895 total yards and the most combined points (77) ever posted by the two sides — besting the 72 turned in with the North’s 41-31 win in 2001 and the South’s 46-26 victory in 2014. The South leads the all-time series 40-20-3.

Yogi Kinder, who took Mingo Central to the Class AA title before stepping down last December, gets one more chance to coach as he leads the South squad on Saturday.

He’ll have a pair of productive quarterbacks in Cody Fuller of Bluefield, who last season completed 103 of 179 passes for 1,649 yards and 15 touchdowns, and dual threat Tate Mayes of Nicholas County (1,516 yards, 23 TDs passing; 771 yards, nine TDs rushing).

Some of the South’s running backs include Kinder’s own Joe Hunt of Mingo Central (1,506 yards, 25 TDs), Mason Brubeck of Class AAA runner-up Spring Valley (1,303 yards, 20 TDs), Buffalo’s Dylan Lucas, the state’s leading scorer (2,465 yards, 36 TDs), Point Pleasant’s Grant Safford (1,755 yards, 22 TDs) and Spring Valley fullback Jonah Wellman.

“We’ve got enough plays,’’ Kinder said earlier in the week. “I just think we’ve got to block a little bit better than we have. But I think everything is kind of coming together, like it does in every all-star game I’ve been involved in.

“At the first of the week, you think, ‘Oh, my God, we won’t be able to run a play.’ By Wednesday, you get a little bit better and you think you’ve got a little better team and come Friday, you think, ‘We’ll be all right.’ That’s what pace we’re on. The kids are not only good players, but they have good attitudes.’’

North coach Chris Daugherty of Wheeling Park expects to give all three of the quarterbacks on his roster some snaps — Corey McDonald of East Hardy, the two-time Class A runner-up; Isaac Myers of AAA Jefferson; and Will Billeter of Class A champ St. Marys.

“I would imagine they’re going to do what they do,’’ Daugherty said of the South, “and we’re going to do what we do. We definitely try to stay balanced, 50-50 if we can. I think our quarterbacks are the key to that. And so far, they’ve done a good job at camp.’’

McDonald threw for nearly 6,000 yards and 74 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Billeter was selected as his team’s MVP in West Virginia’s 50-33 loss to Ohio in last week’s Battle Against Cystic Fibrosis All-Star game in Marietta, Ohio. Billeter hit on 12 of 22 passes for 116 yards and four TDs and ran 11 times for 103 yards.

A two-time 2,000-yard rusher tops the stable of North running backs in Tyler May of Roane County. May ran for 2,039 yards and 24 TDs last season. Latrell Warr of Musselman also figures to get carries, along with Zach Torbett of Wheeling Park and Deavonta Johnson of Keyser. For short yardage and goal-line plays, the North has 280-pound fullback Isaiah Utt of University.

The West Virginia Athletic Coaches Association will induct two members into its North-South Football Hall of Fame prior to the game — Homer Criddle and Chad Johnston. They will be honored during a 1:45 p.m. Saturday ceremony in the banquet hall at West Virginia State University, and then introduced to the crowd at UC Stadium about a half-hour before kickoff.

Criddle, who now lives in Florida, was a three-year letterman at West Virginia and played in the 1964 Liberty Bowl. During his storied coaching career, he won 167 games and led three teams to the Class AAA state title game — South Charleston (1975), St. Albans (1979) and Greenbrier East (1988). He also coached at Kingwood and St. Marys, and led the Blue Devils to the Little Kanawha Conference championship in 1969. He also coached in three North-South Classics.

Johnston, who resides in Blacksburg, Virginia, led Peterstown to the 1991 Class A football title and played in the 1992 North-South game. He then went to WVU, where he started for three seasons at quarterback, guiding the Mountaineers to the 1995 Carquest Bowl and the 1997 Gator Bowl. When he left WVU, he was the program’s all-time leader in passing yardage. He signed pro free-agent deals with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers (1997) and the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League (1998).

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

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