South cruises past North, 43-14

CHARLESTON -Across the ground and through the air, Beckley Flying Eagle Andrew Johnson soared past the competition to lift his southern standouts team at the annual North-South Football Classic.

Johnson threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns and finished as the game’s leading rusher with a third touchdown to spur the South Cardinals to a 43-14 victory at the University of Charleston’s Laidley Field on Saturday night.

“This is great right now,” Johnson said basking in his MVP honors. “I just wanted to come out here and get one more win and end my high school career, and leave as a winner and represent Beckley one more time.”

Tied at halftime 14-14, the South squad scored 29 unanswered second-half points behind Johnson’s three touchdowns. Johnson, a standout basketball player as well, watched the South basketball squad win Friday night from the sidelines as he was not invited to play. Johnson said though he did not use the football contest as a way to vent his anger for the basketball snub.

“I really didn’t think about it like that, but now I’m kind of happy I didn’t play in it, because I don’t think I would have had as much energy tonight to do what I did,” he said.

With Johnson, Beckley’s all-time passing leader, focused all week on football, it showed as he shredded the North defense.

“When coach told me they were running a 4-4 (defense) like on Thursday, I was like ‘Oh, thank you Jesus,'” he said. “We played 4-4s all year and they just can’t stop it. I’m keeping the ball and going for at least five, six yards or I’m handing it off and they’re going for at least five, six yards. I have to give credit to our offensive line. They kept telling me ‘they’re not doing nothing, we’re moving them all day.'”

Johnson scored his first touchdown on a 14-yard option keeper to give the South a 21-14 advantage five minutes into the second half. Four minutes later, Johnson hit South Charleston receiver Trevond Reese for a 35-yard touchdown reception. Reese caught the pass for a modest 6-yard gain, then did the rest sprinting across the field and toward the right pylon for the score.

In the fourth quarter, Johnon tossed for another touchdown. On fourth-and-11 from the North 25-yard line, Johnson displayed his footwork and passing skills on the same play. Johnson scrambled frenetically until he finally located Huntington’s Jarod Martin open in the endzone for the touchdown strike. At that point, the South led 36-14 after Buffalo’s Levi Jordan hit Richwood’s Zach Bennett on the two-point conversion pass.

“He definitely made some plays,” North Coach Jodi Mote said of Johnson. “Of course, with the plays he made, it opened everything else up. Hats off to them. He’s just a tremendous, tremendous athlete.”

Wayne’s Bam Spurlock added the game’s final score on a 7-yard run with 1:08 remaining in the game.

What spiraled into a second-half blowout started as a tight contest in the first half.

Martinsburg quarterback Justin “Cookie” Clinton completed all three pass attempts for 64 yards on the game’s opening drive for the North team, with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Thane Cutter, of Frankfort.

“I told coach that I had an outside slant (open) and we hooked it up for a 30-yard touchdown,” Clinton said. “I felt like after that they kind of picked up on it and they shifted the defense back a little bit.”

The South squad tied the game on a defensive score from Huntington’s Tony Kitts, who fell on a fumbled snap in the endzone. Winfield’s Seth Lewis provided the South Cardinals a 14-7 advantage on a 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Quashad Pugh, of Wheeling Park, intercepted Wahama’s Trenton Gibbs and returned the pick 82 yards for a game-tying touchdown with 15 seconds left in the first half. The teams entered halftime tied 14-14.

Despite Pugh’s score, the North defense struggled to limit the South squad’s effectiveness. That proved evident in the second half as Johnson began to click at an even greater pace than the first half.

“We thought we saw some things we could exploit and we were fortunate that it paid off,” South Coach Joe Dean said. “Sometimes things don’t work so well. Tonight, these guys just played phenomenal. You have to give all the credit to these kids and these assistant coaches. They did a great job.”

For the North Bears, the offense couldn’t provide enough rest for its defense to catch a breath.

“They were able to get things going offensively and obviously we struggled there and had our defense on the field way too longer than what you can have,” Mote said. “It’s just one of those nights.”

While the North side struggled, Johnson shined. Johnson finished 11-of-14 passing for a game-high 190 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson rushed 14 times for 78 yards and a score, and he contributed two catches for 45 yards, too.

Clinton earned MVP honors for the North team. Clinton completed 4-of-15 passes for 77 yards. Clinton led the Bears with 18 rushes for 45 yards. He also had four kick returns for 99 yards and one punt return for 16 yards.

With the win, the South team has won seven of the last eight all-star contests. The South squad holds a 38-19-3 overall advantage.