In the storied history of the Optimist All-Star Football Classic, this was the first one that included frigid fans huddled in blankets and nursing any hot liquid they could get their lips on.
The 56th annual event for senior high school stars from the Sacramento region unfolded Saturday afternoon at Del Oro in Loomis under threatening skies and a sea of at-the-ready umbrellas.
The action on the field sizzled, however, with the North prevailing 61-34 over the South in a shootout that didn't feel like a rout in an encouraging return of the showcase charity event that had lost steam and star power in recent years.
There were trick plays, tackle-breaking long runs and special teams highlights - and only one rain shower. And there was sportsmanship as players from each side helped downed bodies up as all hands recognized the general cause here - to raise funds for Optimist Foundation for Handicapped Camping with the highly regarded Character Combine staff on hand pumping their motto, "winning goes beyond the scoreboard."
The previous 55 games were held in the summer and included all-time area greats, some of whom reached the NFL. But with thinning crowds and scholarship players not playing due to college commitments, Optimist leaders Tom and Ross Relles and Fred Claussen decided to move the game. Everyone was pleased with the outcome, including the 12 scholarship talents that took the field as the North eclipsed the Optimsit scoring mark of 58 points from 1992.
Grant standout and North MVP Trayvon Henderson scored on a 25-yard reception from Woodcreek's Stephen Nogosek to give the North the lead for good 16-14 in the second quarter. Henderson made it 54-34 with a 35-yard punt return early in the fourth. Bee Player of the Year Brandon Monroe of Del Oro rushed for 86 yards and scored on runs of 1 and 16 yards for the North, and teammate Marquise Carter-Petit of Grant went for 77 and one.
Isaiah Williams of Burbank was voted South MVP after rushing for 112 yards and scoring on runs of four, 15 and five yards. He set Burbank rushing records this season and said this event "will be with me forever."
Antelope receiver Tyler Winston caught touchdown passes of 15 yards from Kyle Cota of Nevada Union and 25 yards from Rocklin receiver Dominic Giampaoli on a nifty trick play for a 47-21 lead. Cota also hit Stone Sander of Placer for a three-yard touchdown for a 26-14 lead.
"Great game," said North offensive coordinator Casey Taylor, whose Del Oro staff worked with the Grant defensive crew headed by Mike Alberghini and Reggie Harris. "All the stars were humble, class acts and great kids....We knew we had to keep scoring. For a Del Oro guy who likes to grind the ball, this was fun."
The North maximized the fun. National defensive tackle recruit Eddie Vanderdoes of Placer had several plays in the backfield as a fullback and even threw a pass to his prep teammate Sander (a pass interference was called). Sander is headed to Sacramento State, Winston and Monroe to San Jose State and Henderson is weighing multiple offers. Vanderdoes has offers from UCLA, Washington, Notre Dame, Cal, USC and a host of others.
"Really glad to play in this," Vanderdoes said. "It works this time of year. We're still in shape, and it's for a good cause."
Even the special teams stars were beaming. Jesuit kicker/punter Andrew Endicott had field goals of 35 and 29 yards and drilled seven extra points. For kicks, he had an eight-yard pass to Frazier for a first down out of punt formation.
"I met a lot of great guys," Endicott said. "This is something I'll always remember." Robert Frazier opened the scoring, racing 71 yards on the second play from scrimmage for the South. The Elk Grove halfback had 109 yards rushing.
Other North highlights: John Cooley of Granite Bay blocking a punt...Hank Humphers of Nevada Union recovering a fumble...Eric Thomas of El Camino and Jordan Powell of Whitney making interceptions...
For the South, Byron Spain of Oak Ridge had a diving 43-yard catch from Trent Spallas of Franklin to the five...DeShun cq Williams of Laguna Creek had a fumble recovery...