CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As fourth-and-11 plays go, this one looked entirely futile.
Andrew Johnson, seemingly trapped on a sideline rollout, spun away from one blitzer only to find another in his face. But then the Woodrow Wilson quarterback sidestepped that defender also, buying himself a few more seconds before heaving a 25-yard touchdown pass that punctuated the South squad’s 43-14 win over the North in the West Virginia All-Star Classic on Saturday night.
“I was just trying to do whatever I could,” Johnson said of the desperate play. “I was just doing my best not to run out of bounds or throw it out of bounds.”
While the North MVP was admittedly surprised by the outcome of the play, it also stunned tight end Jarod Martin, who was waiting at the goal line for a pass he doubted would ever come.
“I was just standing in the end zone wondering what was happening in the backfield,” said Martin, a Huntington High grad bound for West Virginia State. “I didn’t expect that pass.”
And Johnson didn’t expect such an all-star blowout, yet the South pulled away with 29 unanswered second-half points, with Johnson throwing a 34-yard touchdown to South Charleston’s Trevond Reese and running 14 yards for another score. He said the performance eased the sting from last November’s 39-0 first-round playoff loss to eventual Class AAA state champion Martinsburg.
“Me personally, I wanted to get another win, because I didn’t really end my high school career the way I wanted to,” Johnson said. “I wanted to enjoy one more time representing Beckley.”
He represented just fine, completing 11-of-14 passes for 190 yards and running for 78 more on 13 carries. He also caught two passes for 45 yards. Johnson is likely bound for Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy, unless a late college offer comes his way.
Johnson’s counterpart, Martinsburg graduate Cookie Clinton, quarterbacked the North to a 7-0 lead only 98 seconds into the game, firing a 30-yard strike to Franfort’s Thane Cutter. But those were the last points for the North offense,
“Everything fell in place on that first drive — the snaps were good, the blocking was good,” said Clinton, who finished 4-of-15 passing for 77 yards.
“But after (the South) saw the first touchdown, I guess they pushed their defense back and contained it. We got tired too quick and we didn’t keep the momentum up.”
The North unraveled behind six fumbles, none more costly than on the second drive when Clinton mishandled a shotgun snap in the end zone. South defensive lineman Tony Kitts of Huntington pounced on it for his first touchdown since middle school.
“We saw it was a busted play. We saw the ball was in the air, and then it was rolling around,” Kitts said. “I was right there at the moment. Grabbed it. Touchdown.
“My first high school touchdown comes in the all-star game — It doesn’t get any better than that.”
After a 9-yard run by Seth Lewis temporarily put the South ahead 14-7, North safety Quashad Pugh equalized it with a dazzling defensive play just 15 seconds before the half. The Wheeling Park grad picked off a pass by Wahama’s Trenton Gibbs and returned it 82 yards.
“I thought we needed a play, and (Gibbs) underthrew it, so I broke on it,” Pugh said. “My teammates helped me out and blocked for me.”
The South claimed an interception of its own early in the third quarter, with Buffalo’s Levi Jordan picking off Clinton. That preceded the South’s 54-yard go-ahead march in which Johnson rambled 21 yards on a read-option around right edge before scoring on a 14-yarder around the left side.
While the North netted 143 yards on just 47 snaps, the South offense piled up 483 yards on 73 plays.
“They were just giving us exactly what we wanted,” Johnson said. “In the second half we really didn’t run anything special. We ran ’14 and 15 read’ the whole time, out of the same formation, too. But they just weren’t adjusting to it.”
REESE GOES AIRBORNE
The South surged to a 28-14 lead when Reese caught a quick pass from Johnson underneath and burst down the right sideline for 34 yards.
“I knew the linebackers couldn’t catch me, so it was one cut and I broke to the outside,” said Reese, who capped the play by catapulting over a defender at the goal line. “I could’ve dunked on him if we were on the basketball court.”
Said Johnson: “Trevond was just doing what he always did at South Charleston.”
Though the North defense was carved up much of Saturday night, it kept hustling. Witness a 53-yard catch-and-run by South speedster Marcus Reed, who seemed to be streaking for a score until University High’s Deion Cunningham stripped the ball loose from behind.
Pugh also was in close pursuit and recovered the fumble for hits second turnover.
“It was a big play, but we didn’t capitalize on it,” Pugh said. It wasn’t enough.”
ELKINS PLAYER INJURED
North squad defensive lineman Devan Collins of Elkins High suffered a sever-looking right leg injury in the first half. The game was delayed nearly 10 minutes as trainers placed Collins’ leg in a brace before he was carted off on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance.
“I had been waiting for a shot at Cookie all night, and I finally got one. He’s the best quarterback in the state, and I finally got a shot at him.” – South defensive back Zach Cooper of Hurricane High after he forced a fumble by Clinton.
SERIES GONE SOUTH
The South team owns a 38-19-3 edge in the all-star series and has won seven out of the last eight meetings.