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Johnson paces South's win

Chip Ellis
South QB Andrew Johnson of Woodrow Wilson breaks out of the pocket to pick up yardage.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Andrew Johnson was a little miffed that he originally didn't get selected to play in the North-South basketball game. But he more than made up for that disappointment on the gridiron Saturday night.

Johnson, a two-sport standout at Woodrow Wilson, threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third - all in the second half - to lead the late-breaking South to a 43-14 victory in the 60th North-South All-Star Classic, which drew an estimated crowd of 2,700 to Laidley Field.

"This is great right now,'' Johnson said, "to end my high school career the way I wanted to - come out there and get one more win. Leave as a winner, and represent Beckley one more time.''

It marked the fourth straight victory and seventh in eight games for the South, which extended its all-time series lead to 38-19-3.

The South dominated the second half after the teams were tied 14-all at the break. The North managed just three first downs and 48 net yards after halftime.

Six different players tallied TDs for the South - Johnson on a 14-yard run, a 34-yard pass to Trevond Reese (South Charleston) and a 25-yarder to Jarod Martin (Huntington), Seth Lewis (Winfield) on a 9-yard run, Tony Kitts (Huntington) on a defensive fumble recovery in the end zone and Brandon Spurlock (Wayne) on a 7-yard run.

Johnson, a three-year starter for Woodrow and his school's all-time leading passer, was selected as the South's MVP in a media vote. He finished 11 of 14 passing for 190 yards, ran 13 times for 78 yards and also played a little receiver when he wasn't at quarterback, catching two passes for 45 yards.

He acknowledged his displeasure with being left off the original South team in basketball, his favorite sport. The South captured a 92-81 hoops victory on Friday.

"I was [disappointed] a little bit at first,'' Johnson said. "I was very upset I didn't make it. They told me I missed by one vote and said, 'You're the first alternate if you want to play.' I didn't want to play just like that. [Friday] night I really, really wanted to play [basketball] because I had a lot of friends on the South team and I felt like I should have been out there.

"But everything happens for a reason. God made that happen for a reason. If I'd played [Friday] night, I don't think I'd have been able to come out there with as much energy as I did tonight and play the way I did.''

The South held a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter and was driving for another score, facing a fourth-and-5 from the North 25 with 32 seconds left before halftime.

Trenton Gibbs (Wahama), the backup QB for the South who threw for 100 yards, tried to hit Johnson on an out pattern, but Johnson ran a slant and the ball wound up in the hands of North defensive back Quashad Pugh (Wheeling Park), who returned it 82 yards for a TD, knotting the game at halftime.

The South didn't waste much time taking control in the second half, nearly scoring on four straight possessions after defensive back Levi Jordan (Buffalo) intercepted a Justin "Cookie'' Clinton pass and brought it back 18 yards to his own 46.

Johnson capped that drive with his keeper play, then threw TD tosses to Reese and Martin. On the first, Reese caught a short crossing pass, cut back across the field and picked up a nifty clearing block from Martin. On the latter, Johnson bought time with his scrambling ability, allowing Martin to get open at the goal line and make a fingertip grab.

The only time the South didn't score in that stretch was when it failed to hold onto the ball. Johnson found a streaking Marcus Reed (Riverside) down the middle for a 53-yard gain to the North 17, but Reed fumbled it away when tackled.

Johnson admitted that the offense wasn't looking too sharp during the early portion of the teams' weeklong practices at West Virginia State. South assistant Jim Martin, the quarterbacks coach at Woodrow, was installing the Flying Eagles attack.

"At the beginning of the week,'' Johnson said, "I was getting frustrated because I'm used to having everything clicking right away. But then I had to remember I was with a whole new group of people and they don't know [the offense]. Coach told me to stick with it, and it worked out. He said Saturday night would be a way different story, and it was.''

Jordan, a four-year starter at quarterback for Buffalo and a late addition to the South squad last week at defensive back, wrapped up a personal triple crown of sorts, as he participated in the North-South baseball, basketball and football games this month.

On Saturday, besides his key interception, he batted down two other passes, had two tackles, was 5 of 5 on extra points, booted a 40-yard punt and even had a hand in a trick play on a conversion, throwing a 2-point pass to Zach Bennett (Richwood).

"I'm just blessed,'' Jordan said. "Give all the glory to God for letting me get out there and show my athleticism.''

Jordan said it took a while for the South defense to figure out a way to contain the elusive Clinton, who led Martinsburg to the Class AAA state title last season, the third straight for the Eastern Panhandle Bulldogs.

"We weren't very experienced with each other,'' Jordan said, "but it felt like we were brothers out there. We connected as a family. We had to stop Cookie. After my pick, it felt like we got things rolling. We finally got on the ball and started scoring.''

Clinton was voted as his team's MVP for his versatility.

He hit on his first three passes for 64 yards, including a 30-yard TD to Thane Cutter (Frankfort), and broke off a 13-yard gain on his first run. However, he finished just 4 of 15 passing for 77 yards with one pick and carried 18 times for a net of 45 yards. On kick returns, he brought back four kickoffs 99 yards and one punt 16 yards.

"I just told my team at the start of the game we knew we had to fight,'' Clinton said, "and everything fell into place. The snaps were good, the blocking was good. But I felt like we got too tired too quick. We didn't keep the momentum up. We didn't play to our potential the way we worked this whole week. I thought we just lost our momentum.''

Austin Ravenscroft (Keyser) led the North defense with 12 tackles (seven solo), including five stops for losses. Daryl Hicks (Ripley) paced the South defense with seven tackles (three unassisted), with 21/2 for losses.

Play was halted for about 10 minutes in the second quarter when North defensive tackle Devan Collins of Elkins injured his leg. He was removed from the field on a gurney

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.

 


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