TRACY — Travante Richard had two chances to be the hero for the South team in Saturday night’s Lions All-Star Football Game.
The first was a pass into the end zone with 22 seconds left that appeared to everybody but the officials to be caught by Richard as he lay on his back.
The second came on the final play, when Richard’s potential winning 23-yard field goal was blocked, forcing a 21-21 finish for the second tie in 41 years of this game.
The Merced standout, playing for his high school coach, Rob Scheidt, still had an outstanding game, catching eight passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. It meant that immediately after the game, he was exhilarated over his performance but wasn’t too fond of the tie.
“You don’t know how to feel after this,” Richard said. “You spend two weeks in dorms and it’s a tie and you can’t do anything about it.”
Despite the deadlock, this was a contest dominated by the South after the North jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the opening three minutes.
Gaige Allen of Kimball, who was named the outstanding offensive player, grabbed a 49-yard scoring pass from Kelse DePauli-Wiltse of Tokay to open the game, then scampered in from 22 yards on a reception from Wayne Brooks of Stagg for a 14-0 lead.
But the South answered quickly, with game Most Valuable Player Kendel Johnson of Central Valley hitting Tristan Best of Downey with a 5-yard scoring pass, followed by a 47-yard pass from Sean Downs of Turlock to former Modesto Christian quarterback Anthony Brooks with 20 seconds left in the first quarter.
The 14-14 tie held until the fourth quarter, when Manteca’s Alex Laurel capped a 92-yard North scoring drive with a 2-yard run. The South answered two possessions later, with Johnson completing three passes for 50 yards, including the tying strike to Richard from 24 yards.
The South’s final drive started at its 43-yard line with 2:25 left. Downs moved the team quickly downfield, with a 19-yard strike to Anthony Brooks giving the South a first and goal at the 10 with less than a minute left.
On third down at the 4, Downs rolled left and fired low into the end zone. Richard, held on the play and drawing a pass interference flag, came up with the ball and set off a celebration on the South sideline.
Not so fast. Both officials near the play signaled incomplete, and since pass interference no longer results in an automatic first down at the high school level, the ball was moved to the 2 and the down was replayed.
“I grabbed the ball,” Richard said. “It went off my knees and I was able to hold on.”
The South committed a procedure penalty before the next play, and a third-down run gained only one yard to set up Richard’s field goal try. He was a perfect 3 for 3 on extra points, but under the rules of this game, conversion kicks could not be rushed by the defense. Field goal attempts were not so protected by the rules.
“I knew they were going to rush the field goal,” Richard said. “I needed the blocking because I can’t kick the ball very high, even though I kick off one step. They got in just way too fast.”
The kick was smothered as much as it was blocked, and by the time the ball was recovered, the clock had expired.
The South won the yardage battle 410-335, holding the North to 202 yards after the opening three minutes. Johnson, who spent much of his time at Central Valley handing off to Ja’Quan Gardner, was the game’s leading passer (11 of 22, 138 yards,) and rusher (10 carries, 79 yards.)
And as they shook hands at midfield, both sides began to chant: “O-ver-time, O-ver-time.”
“Heck yeah, we still want to play,” Johnson said. “We want to show who is the best team out here – South or North.”