North-South football: North grinds out 10-7 win

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
North’s Latrell Warr of Musselman carries the ball past the South’s Jeb Evans of Tolsia (left) and Turan Rush of Capital (right).

Yogi Kinder was hoping to go out with a victory in his farewell game, but the North defense had other ideas.

Quarterback Will Billeter ripped off a 67-yard touchdown run in the second quarter Saturday night and the North defense made that lead stand up behind a ferocious defense, earning a 10-7 victory in the 64th WCHS-TV 8 Fox 11 North-South Classic in front of about 4,000 fans at University of Charleston Stadium.

It marked the first back-to-back wins for the North since 2004-05, and was in stark contrast to last year’s game, a 42-35 North shootout victory, the highest-scoring game in the history of the series, which dates back to 1934.

The South’s running game managed just 18 net yards on 28 carries against a stout North defensive front led by game MVP Isaiah Utt (University) and Ricky Robinson (East Hardy).

“They played great,’’ North coach Chris Daugherty of Wheeling Park said about his defense. “Our guys gave up a couple pass plays, but other than that, they didn’t give up much offense.

“We felt the strength of our team was the defense back in February when we put the team together. I thought then the D-line was as good as it gets, and it showed today.’’

Kinder, who led Mingo Central to the Class AA championship in his final game as coach last December before stepping down, saw his South team waste some decent chances in the second half after trailing 10-7 at the break.

The South’s first four drives all made it into North territory — but advances to the 10 and 15 resulted in missed field goals, and two other possessions fizzled at the North 43 and 30.

South kicker Matthew Molina had a 32-yard field goal try blocked in the third quarter and was wide on 27-yarder later in the period.

“We had some chances in the second half,’’ Kinder said. “That guy’s a real good kicker, but on the first one we had a guy forget to go in, so we only had 10 guys and they blocked it. On the second one, he was probably thinking about the block.’’

All the scoring came in the first half as the North’s Miguel Pereira (Spring Mills) booted a 31-yard field goal and Billeter (St. Marys) broke off a 67-yard TD run on a read option to make it 10-0.

That was probably the most telling series of the game, as the South’s Tate Mayes had punted the North into a hole inside its own 1-yard line. However, the North scored on just two plays — Billeter’s 32-yard hookup with Corey McDonald, the East Hardy quarterback who played much of the way at wide receiver, followed by Billeter’s scoring burst.

“I’m happy for our quarterbacks,’’ Daugherty said. “We had three of them and they all deserved to play. I’ve seen a lot of teams that don’t do that, but I thought all those guys played well. I thought Will was not the runner of the three and, heck, he pulls the ball down and runs down the sideline. They all did a great job.

“We were able to do some things offensively early, and then it fell back down. You’re going to look like that in a game like this — it’s tough to get the offense in on both sides of the ball.’’

The North won despite going 0 of 4 passing in the second half and registering just three first downs following halftime. All three came in the final 11 minutes, largely behind the power running of Latrell Warr (Musselman), who carried 17 times for 69 yards.

That meant the North had to lean even more on its defensive front, which responded with one big stop after another. Utt was selected as his team’s MVP in a media vote, recording two tackles for loss, two more for no gain, and teaming up on the North’s only sack.

Nathaniel Frazier (Lewis County) recovered a fumble for the North on his own 24-yard line with 7:10 to halt the South’s last best chance.

Daugherty admitted keeping his offensive play-calling close to the vest because his defense was doing so well.

“I felt we were running the ball at times,’’ he said. “I felt that when we executed, we ran the ball well. So it was like, ‘Do we play the clock with this lead, this little lead we’ve got?’ I felt good with this defense, and we stuck with the run and it worked.’’

The South was able to rack up some big plays in the passing game with gains of 23, 36, 42 and 58 yards, but had only one score to show for it — Carter Sebert-Sweeney’s 23-yard catch from Cody Fuller (Bluefield) with 4:37 left before halftime to make it 10-7.

Mayes completed 8 of 11 passes for 134 yards and Fuller was 7 of 15 for 91 yards. South MVP Darnell Brooks (George Washington) caught six balls for 79 yards before leaving in the second half after a hit to the helmet on a long incompletion.

Despite the loss, Kinder said he was pleased to get the chance to coach one more game.

“Man, I’ve had a blast,’’ he said, “and these kids were wonderful. That makes it bittersweet, I guess, but the thing about it is, we won a state football championship and I got to come up here and coach in this last game here. Hey, those are the two biggest games I’ve ever had, back to back.

“Looking back, I probably could have put a little more effort into it and changed some guys around, but you don’t really know in a week what you can do. They played hard, and anybody could have won.’’

With Saturday’s win, the North also emerged with a basketball-football sweep for the first time since 2009. The North captured a 108-105 basketball triumph on Friday at the South Charleston Community Center.

For the first time in years, the football game kicked off on time — actually two minutes early at 6:58 p.m.

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

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