SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Momentum was with the North Bears, who had just cut what was earlier a 14-point lead for the South Cardinals to 14-13 on the strength of Bridgeport’s Landyn Reppert’s 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The South then began the ensuing possession from its 20-yard line, and faced with a second-and-11, Woodrow Wilson quarterback Maddex McMillen found Herbert Hoover wide receiver Herbert Hoover Devin Hatfield for 18 yards. It was the start of a 10 play, 80-yard drive that Oak Hill’s Leonard Farrow capped with an 8-yard touchdown run, before a 2-point pass from 18 yards made it a two score game, helping the South seal a 30-13 victory at South Charleston High School.
“I knew we needed to score there and really seal the game,” McMillen said. “I told the guys, ‘Let’s go punch this in and go home with a trophy.’ We all had the same idea to get into the end zone and we had our heads straight for the last drive.”
It was the South’s first win in the North-South Football Classic since a 7-0 triumph in 2015. It also snapped a five-game win streak for the North. The South leads the all-time series, 41-24-3.
“Our kids showed a lot of guts,” said Spring Valley’s Brad Dingess, who served as South head coach. “We hit some adversity and all that stuff. It was a little wild there in the first half. But I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage and our defense played well. We made plays when we had to and we were able to establish the run in the second half. We caused a couple turnovers and were able to capitalize.”
Following Hatfield’s first reception on the decisive drive, Farrow ripped off an 18-yard run and Lincoln County’s Isaiah Smith followed with an 11-yard rush. Later on the drive, Hatfield made an 11-yard catch and McMillen rushed for 8 yards on third-and-7, before Farrow reached pay dirt.
“I went over to coach and said, ’this corner is playing about 10 yards off and he’s bailing,’” Hatfield said. “We started throwing the hitches, taking what they gave us and getting upfield to get as many yards as possible while taking care of the football.”
Farrow was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was marked off before the South’s two-point attempt. It did nothing to hamper the Cardinals, as Spring Valley’s Ty Bartrum hauled in a pass from McMillen that upped the advantage to 22-13.
The North mishandled the ensuing kickoff, which was recovered by Lincoln County’s Nolan Shimp. That set the stage for McMillen’s 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal, which combined with Bartrum’s two-point pass to Buffalo’s Drew Clendenin, produced the final margin.
“We kind of went with the hot hand. Maddex was playing really well and we were able to pick up some things they were doing in the coverage and got some short passes out there to Hatfield in the flat,” Dingess said.
Reppert’s scoring run finished off a 72-yard drive that featured five defensive penalties on the South in what was a chippy affair throughout.
Martinsburg’s Hudson Clement and Buffalo’s Dalton Jones were forced to their respective benches for the remainder of the opening half after receiving unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the first quarter.
“You get kids in such a short confine, they’re around each other in the same dorm room, eating in the same dining hall for a week and it can get testy. They’re going to chirp; they’re high school kids,” said Musselman’s Brian Thomas, head coach of the North. “I knew it was going to be chippy.”
The South played from in front thanks to Jones intercepting North Marion’s Brody Hall on the game’s opening series. Jones’ 38-yard return allowed the South to start at the North 25, and after two fourth down conversions (one on a North offside penalty, the other on Farrow’s 3-yard run) Bartrum tumbled into the end zone from 2 yards. The Spring Valley standout found Huntington defensive lineman James Scott on a quirky two-point pass that left the South with an 8-0 lead 5:07 into the action.
“I’ve said it all year — that guy is the best player in the state,” Dingess said of Bartrum. “He can do anything you want him to do. I was lucky and blessed enough that I was able to coach him in the regular season and then one more time, but that kid is something special.”
The teams exchanged punts before the North’s second turnover — a Hall fumble recovered by Clendenin, created a short field and led to Logan Phelan of Independence scoring from 1 yard on a fourth-and-goal run. Although the two-point pass fell incomplete, the South led 14-0 with 4:22 left in the opening half.
“The North has won the last five games, so it was good to bring that trophy back to the South,” Hatfield said.
Hall’s 40-yard pass to high school teammate Tariq Miller put the North in prime position to score, but four consecutive runs insdie the South 5 netted only 1 yard, with Reppert being stopped well short on fourth-and-goal from the 2.
However, Phelan was intercepted by Miller late in the opening half, and it created the North’s first points when Hall tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Grafton’s Kaden Delaney on the final play of the opening half. A point-after kick from Spring Mills’ Hayden Pack left the North with a 14-7 halftime deficit.
Total yardage was nearly even, with the South holding a 183-181 advantage.
The South converted all four of its fourth down conversions and held a 28:52-19:08 advantage in time of possession.
“I’m not a stats guy for the most part, but total offense sticks out to me. But we had two turnovers and they had one, and on fourth down conversions, they’re 4-for-4,” Thomas said. “You get these guys together in such a short amount of time. You get to install stuff, but coming from a football side of things, sometimes you don’t get to work situations and they beat us in situations. That’s probably my fault, but with such a short amount of time, sometimes you don’t work on that kind of stuff a lot.”
Farrow rushed 11 times for 44 yards and McMillen completed 6-of-12 passes for 73 yards in addition to his 17 rushing yards. Bartrum made two catches for 35 yards.
Hall rushed 14 times for 41 yards, though the North was outgained on the ground, 110-68.
Hall completed 6-of-11 throws for 149 yards, with Miller hauling in three passes for a game-high 87 receiving yards.
Bartrum and Miller were named the outstanding defensive players on their respective teams, while Farrow and Hall were chosen MVP of their squads.
“It’s one of the best events that this state has. I’m so thankful for every kid we had on this team,” Dingess said. “The memories we made this week are something the kids will keep for a lifetime.”