ASHLAND – Punts were prevalent and flags flew onto the field, but Lee-Davis quarterback Zach Lass dug deep, found the heat he needed in his arm on a soggy Saturday afternoon at Randolph-Macon College’s Day Field and connected with dynamic Highland Springs receiver Antwane Wells to lift the North-Stars past the South 25-13 in the Big River Rivalry high school all-star football game.
Wells earned MVP honors in the sixth edition of the Greater Richmond region’s high school showcase, which annually features the clash of standout seniors from North and South of the James River at the end of each high school season. Wells made five catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Ky’mon Pope of Dinwiddie was named the South All-Stars’ MVP. He carried the ball 25 times for a fiery 140 yards on the rainy afternoon and added 51 yards passing on four completions against two interceptions and a rushing touchdown.
Lass completed five passes for 144 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Highland Springs’ D’Vonte Waller completed nine passes for 109 yards, a touchdown and one interception.
Hanover County’s representatives on the North team were Lee-Davis’ Lass and Colby Andrews; Atlee’s Tucker Bratton, Will Belvin and Isaiah and Isaac Abel; Patrick Henry’s Brandon Sullivan and Jack Keck and Hanover’s Justin Haynesworth and Edward Robinson.
King William players on the North All-Stars were Eric Johnson and Tommy Riffe.
Representing Powhatan County on the South All-Stars were lineman Dowdy and running back Jacob Taylor from Powhatan High School and linemen Noa Hasty and Luke Freudenthal from Blessed-Sacrament Huguenot.
Powhatan’s Jacob Dowdy led the way on a tackle for loss for the South.
Goochland’s Sam Brooks picked up four solo tackles, including a tackle for loss, and an assist for the North. Benedictine’s Tre Akande made an interception within the final 30 seconds of regulation.
In addition to Goochland’s Brooks and Benedictine’s Akande, Benedictine lineman Cole Simon represented Goochland County on the North All-Stars.
The South led the North 7-0 after a first quarter that saw several punts fly through the air. The lone score in that stretch – a one-yard rush scored by Monacan’s Tanner Adams – capped a 77-yard drive that saw Dinwiddie’s Ky’mon “Peety” Pope lead his South All-Stars down the field.
With his team down by seven, Atlee’s Isaac Abel fell on a fumble by the South team to turn possession of the ball over to his North All-Stars’ offense with 8:39 to play in the second quarter. In the drive set up by Abel’s recovery, the North overcame penalties on the arm and legs of Highland Springs’ D’Vonte Waller to march the ball down to the South’s 26.
Along the way, Waller zipped passes to Springers teammate Wells andDouglas Freeman’s Liam Simpson and delivered a screen pass to Springer teammate Tremayne Talbert, who sprinted down the right side to reach the first down marker and convert on third and 15 from the South’s 41.
Waller closed out the drive by letting a loose a rocket that traveled into the hands of wide-open receiver Simpson, who quickly reached the end zone upon making the catch to put the North on the scoreboard. The 2-point try, however, was unsuccessful, and the South stayed in the lead over the North 7-6.
Atlee’s Bratton contributed a nifty run in which he spun his way past South defenders to gain 3 yards in his North team’s first scoring drive of the game.
The North forced a punt with Collegiate’s Michael Brost defending against a deep pass, and Lass overcame early struggles in the pocket to lift his team ahead 12-7. Lass, who at that point had yet to make a completion, racked up 90 yards on two passes as he pushed his team towards midfield on a 31-yarder to Wells, then, after seeing his 43-yarder to Douglas Freeman’s Liam Simpson in the end zone get erased on a holding call, found Wells again, this time for a 59-yard gem of a touchdown. Wells racked up the yards after making his second catch from Lass as he shifted past defenders to take the ball into the end zone.
The North got the ball again to open the second half, but Powhatan’s Jacob Dowdy led the South’s defensive line in wrapping up the North’s Matt Johnson for a tackle for loss.
“I just came off the ball, read the play, made the tackle,” Dowdy said, adding of playing in the all-star game: “It was a great opportunity, very fun, just glad to do it.”
Dowdy’s teammates knocked a pass out of the North receiver’s hands before the receiver could secure the catch on the successive third-down play to force the punt.
That put the South’s offense, again led by Pope, back on the field, and Pope carved up chunks of rushing yards to move his team inside the North’s 30. But Devyn Coles, who made an interception in the first half, wrapped up Pope behind the line of scrimmage to turn the ball over to the North on downs.
The North ended up punting it away, but Benedictine’s Tre Akande contributed a pass-deflection, nearly picking off the throw up the middle to force third and 13. The South’s short-lived drive ended in a punt after a screen pass fell incomplete.
The North punted yet again, with Thomas Jefferson’s Keegan Vaughan booting the ball all the way to the South’s 15. Atlee’s Isaac Abel led the defensive line in collapsing onto the South’s quarterback for a 9-yard sack.
The South tried to go deep on a big passing play, but Mills Godwin’s Will Shulleeta ran after the ball and hauled in the interception near the 40, returning it all the way to the South’s 9-yard line. The South, however, held the North to a field goal try, which was ruled no good.
And then Pope, like he has all season, found a way.
Taking the snap from his own 23, the Dinwiddie senior quarterback rolled out to his right and barreled down the sideline on an explosive 72-yard romp to propel his team past the North 13-12 in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
The North, led by Waller, drove into the South’s territory, but Matoaca’s Xavier Addison picked-off a deep pass near the end zone to return the ball to his offense. The South, however, was held to a punt from deep inside its own territory with the North receiving the ball around midfield.
Lass delivered a 31-yarder to John Marshall’s Shoye Sampson, then used his feet to drive the North inside the South’s 15 on back-to-back carries. And then, after a penalty pushed the North back to the 18, Lass on fourth down aired out the pass to Wells in the right side of the end zone to again send his team ahead.
Tremayne Talbert added an insurance touchdown for the North when he picked-off a pass at his team’s 39, then returned it down the left field sideline and all the way to the house for a pick six. The North forced a turnover on downs despite a sizeable last-ditch rushing effort by Pope on fourth down, and then controlled the remaining minutes from there.
The North leads the South 4-2 all-time in the Big River Rivalry series.
Nick Vandeloecht is sports editor of Powhatan Today, Goochland Gazette and Cumberland Today. He can be reached at email@example.com.