ALTOONA — Curwensville’s Nick Stewart and Bryce Timko scored third-quarter touchdowns to wipe away a frustrating first half and the North held on for a 22-21 victory over the South Friday at Mansion Park in the 34th Lezzer Lumber Classic.
Stewart scored on a 20-yard touchdown run with 8:32 to go in the third quarter, Timko added a 3-yard score with 3:15 on the clock and Clearfield’s Jake Sorbera booted PATs after both to put the North on top 14-6.
Stewart rushed 14 times for 118 yards and a TD and was named the North’s Offensive MVP. The 118 yards is the fourth-highest total for a back in Classic history.
“It’s a sweet way to end my high school career,” Stewart said of the MVP performance. “I had a crazy-good line. I had a lot of fun and it was a great game.”
The North made four trips into the Red Zone in the first half, but came away empty-handed on each occasion, turning it over on downs on the first series before losing fumbles to end the next two drives inside the 10. The fourth Red Zone possession was thwarted by Bishop Guilfoyle’s Mark Conrad’s interception in the end zone.
“We got the ball inside the 10 twice in the first half and came away with nothing,” North head coach Shanon Manning (Bellefonte) said. “We did some good things on the first drive too and came away with nothing.
“That’s what we told the kids at halftime ... ‘we probably have 180 yards of offense and no points to show for it.’ So we really didn’t make any changes at the half. We just needed to go out and do what we do and we needed to finish and that’s what we did in that third quarter.”
And the North turned to Curwensville’s duo of Stewart and Timko as well as Clarion quarterback Spencer Miller to get the job done.
Stewart ran the ball three times for 25 yards in the opening series of the second half, while Miller had a 6-yard run and completed a pair of passes for 15 yards as the North went 62 yards in eight plays to take a 7-6 lead.
Timko hooked up with State College’s Brandon Clark for a 40-yard pass play that converted a third-and-4 from the North 42 on the next drive before using his legs for a 4-yard gain to move the chains on a fourth-and-2 from the South 10-yard line.
The Golden Tide quarterback capped the 10-play 64-yard drive with a 3-yard run to give the North a 14-6 advantage with 3:15 left in the third.
“We never put our heads down and cried about it,” Stewart said. “We just went back in there and played as hard as we could and came out on top.”
After the South offense sputtered for the second straight drive, the North took over at its own 3-yard line after a 51-yard punt by Mifflin County’s Davis Wagner pinned them against their own goal line.
Stewart ripped off a 37-yard gain on the next play, but the big gain got called back due to a holding penalty at the 2.
But the North stayed with its bread-and-butter running game and quickly found itself across midfield as the the District 9 tandem of Miller and Stewart, who will see plenty of each other at the next level, alternated runs.
“It was really cool to play with Stewart,” Miller said. “I had never met him before. I didn’t know what he looked like or who he was, I just knew his name. To get to play with him this week was really cool. And we’ll be playing against each other in college. He’s going to Mercyhurst and I’m going to Gannon.
Stewart had carries of 10, 4, 10 and 16 yards on the drive and Ian Barr added a key 8-yard gain on a jet sweep that helped move the chains.
Barr then hauled in a 34-yard TD pass from Miller on the drive’s 14th play and the North held a commanding 22-6 lead with 4:48 left to play after Sorbera nailed a kick from 30 yards out worth 2 points per a new rule added this year.
“I think we meshed better in the second half,” Miller said of the North offense. “I think it was just mental errors in the Red Zone (in the first half).
The North running game racked up 261 yards on 53 carries, helping them to a 72-49 advantage in total plays. The 261 yards is just 20 shy of the all-time Classic record of most rushing yards by one team in a game.
“Once we get the jet going, that gets the defense moving on our counter game, and that’s our bread and better,” Manning said. “And then, of course, Stewart ... he’s incredible. He just makes things happen.”
Trailing 22-6 with under 5 minutes to play, the South needed a big play to get back in the game and got it on the ensuing kickoff when Huntingdon’s Jonathan Price returned the ball 63 yards to the North 31. Price had four kick returns for 133 yards int he contest.
Three plays later, Altoona quarterback Braeden Burchfield hit high school teammate Cam Fasick on a 31-yard TD pass with as the Mountain Lion receiver made a diving catch at the goal line for the score.
The South kicked the PAT to make it 22-13 with 4:19 still to go and per the special Classic rules elected to have the North kick off to them because they trailed by more than 9 points.
Burchfield and the made the most of the rule by quickly driving 53 yards on five plays. Burchfield connected with Conrad for a 30-yard TD with 3:10 toi go and Davis Wagner’s 2-point kick cut the South deficit to 22-21.
The South attempted an onside kick following the Conrad touchdown, but DuBois’ Kenny Garvey recovered for the North, giving the vaunted rushing attack a chance to finish the game.
The North ran seven plays on the ground and took the ball all the way to the South 1-yard line while running out the clock to clinch the 1-point victory.
“That was the big thing we were preaching there at the end — once we got the ball, we wanted to keep it between the tackles and we needed to run them over to finish it. That’s kind of how we ended games at Bellefonte.”
The South took a 6-0 lead in the second quarter when Huntingdon’s Ian Border scored on a 12-yard run with 4:45 left before the half Border, who had 84 yards on 10 carries, was the South Offensive MVP.
The South nearly took the lead on its first possession when Burchfield had Bishop Guilfoyle’s Michael Berish open on a post pattern, but Brockway’s Dylan LeCates closed in a hurry and was able to tip the ball away at the last second to thwart a possible touchdown strike.
Lecates did it again in the third quarter, knocking the ball away from a South receiver as he was about to make a catch at the goal line. LeCates was named the North Defensive MVP.
The North victory is the second straight in the series, which is now tied 17-17.