Joe Davidson

Now that’s a game. Thrilling finish helps rev up Optimist All-Star of area senior stars

South receiver Marshaun Hunter (4) celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown. The score put the South ahead 24-17 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game.
South receiver Marshaun Hunter (4) celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown. The score put the South ahead 24-17 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game. rbenton@sacbee.com

There were some stop and starts, per the norm for such events when there isn’t enough practice to iron out the wrinkles.

But fireworks?

Plenty of those, too, to dull the winter chill at Sacramento State on Saturday night in the 60th Optimist All-Star Game.

It came down to the final play when the North went for two points and the win, and when Gunnor Faulk’s pass went incomplete, the South celebrated its 24-23 triumph as if it really meant something.

And it did. This might have been the most exciting and frantic finish in this storied event for local charities, including Camp Ross Relles, and it was a needed bit of fun as the game for area senior stars has suffered from a decline in interest and luster.

But what a way to rev it up again. Practices were lively and detailed, including in the driving rain on Wednesday. Rivals became teammates and friends, at least for a week. Players and coaches visited Shriners Hospital.

Sac State athletic director Mark Orr said this game has a home at his venue, adding, “There’s such great football in this area that we have to keep this game going.”

A distinct Del Campo flavor helped tip the favor for the South with passing, running and catching, and how fitting.

Del Campo stars capped a memorable year after powering the Cougars to a 12-1 season last fall, which included the first 10-0 regular season since the school opened in 1963. Cougars coach Mike Dimino served as offensive coordinator for this contest under his longtime coaching pal Max Miller, the South head coach, and Dimino ordered up a lot of DC plays.

His son, Tyler Dimino, hit Del Campo teammate Trevor Brouhns for a 33-yard touchdown for a 7-7 lead in the second quarter, and Del Campo rushing record-holder Greg Cabral tied it at 17-17 with a 7-yard run.

And yet another Del Campo player caught the eventual game winner when Marshaun Hunter caught an 18-yard touchdown from Sacramento’s Derek Shelton with 7:19 left. Hunter is headed to Sac State on scholarship, so he has already gotten used to Hornet Stadium.

Faulk, the Christian Brothers record-setting star, hit Placer’s Anthony Kerrigan with a 12-yard strike with seven seconds left to keep it interesting right to the end. After a time out, North coach John Volek elected to go for the win. The North kicked an onside kick but was unable to recover it.

Faulk, who’s heading to UC Davis, opened the scoring with a 5-yard touchdown to Antelope’s Gabe Thomas, and he hit a diving Josh Farr of Jesuit for a 59-yard bomb for a 17-10 lead with 41 seconds left in the half.

Jamie Cousey of Sacramento enjoyed competing on the same side as Del Campo for once. His Dragons lost a four-overtime thriller to Del Campo in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, but Cousey and the Cougars became fast friends this week in practice.

“Oh, we love him and we’ll use him,” Mike Dimino said during a rainy Wednesday practice, with Cousey grinning in acknowledgment.

Cousey rushed for 93 yards, most of them in the second half, and none of it included a 61-yard touchdown burst out of wildcat formation. The play was nullified by a penalty.

Sam Brooks of Sheldon had two tackles for a loss and recovered a fumble for the South

* Guns & Hoses – Jace Sloan threw touchdown passes of 10 and 68 yards to Terrance McDonald, and Brandon Kellerman ran 15 yards for another score as the Law Enforcement defeated Fire 24-9 in the 44th annual Guns & Hoses Charity Football Game at Hornet Field.

Mervin Brookins had a 3-yard run in the first half for the Fire.

Kellerman, dominant in leading the Law’s rushing offense, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Andrew Erhart led its defense with two interceptions.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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