With the wealth of offensive talent on each team for the 40th Kensington Lions All-Star Classic, one would have thought the game would’ve resembled an offensive shootout of some form – either by ground or by air.
Instead, it was the defenses for both sides that took center stage until North turned three momentum-swinging turnovers into the points it needed to pull away from the South, 26-10, on a hot, muggy Wednesday night at the Constantino Sports Complex at Depew High School.
North team offensive MVP Tristan Boling of Tonawanda caught two touchdown passes, his first converting a fourth-and-4 play with 1:10 left in the third quarter to reverse a 3-0 deficit. North’s Cordell Owens of St. Joe’s recovered a fumbled punt snap at South’s 5 to set up the score.
A 25-yard interception return deep into South territory by Newfane’s Kyle Burdick set up what proved to be the winning points with 8:59 left, a 2-yard TD run by Sweet Home’s Jordan Evert. Linebacker James Thomas of Canisius returned a fumble 65 yards late in the fourth quarter for North’s final TD during its 19-point fourth quarter.
Play of the game: In a game where both teams struggled with their goal line offenses, Boling’s first TD gets the nod as he out-jumped two defenders to come down with Sam Castronova’s fourth-down pass. It provided the offensive spark North needed to make plays down the stretch.
Defensive stands: North forced six turnovers during the final 30 minutes with the big gift coming late in the third quarter when Owens pounced on a loose ball at South’s 5 during a failed punt attempt, leading to the first of Boling’s TDs.
Jake Ames of Williamsville North and Thomas also recovered fumbles. Newfane’s Kyle Burdick and Niagara Falls’ Joe Medley Jr. made interceptions for the winners.
Coming up empty: South failed to score twice near the goal line and failed to convert a short field goal before halftime that could have given them a 6-0 lead.
Bennett’s Alexander Lofton of the North pounced on a fumbled snap at North’s 5 early in the second quarter to turn back a scoring chance. Kenmore East’s Kurt McGowan recovered a fumble on North’s 3 to deny South on a third-and-goal attempt from the 1 early in the third quarter.
Game MVPs: Besides Boling, earning the honors for North were Ames (defense) and North Tonawanda’s Alex Molik (offensive line). South MVPs were Arenzo Thomas of Timon (offense), Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake’s A.J. Hulton (defense) and Maryvale’s Michael Kelleher (offensive line).
South resolve: St. Francis’ Brien Pacholec sacked Jason Hellwig of Medina on fourth down to thwart North’s second drive. The South forced North’s Chris Woodard into an incompletion on a fourth-down try from South’s 22 with under three minutes left in the second quarter.
Sam Khoury of West Seneca East recovered a fumble with a minute left at North’s 19 after a sack.
Key play of first half: After being sacked on South’s first offensive play, Zak Ciezki of Cheektowaga converted a second-and-22 play with a 25-yard pass play to Riverside’s Xavier Maye. Five plays later, West Seneca West’s Sean Kline gave South a 3-0 lead with a 31-yard field goal.
Feeling hot, hot, hot: Temperature one hour before kickoff was 90 degrees. Temperature at kickoff was 87. No word what the on-field temperature was on the artificial A-turf field. Game officials opted to have mandatory water breaks for players at the mid-point of each quarter.
Attendance: Estimated 3,000.
Nostalgia: South coach Brian Wilson has been involved in the Lions Classic as a coach 11 times, twice as head coach. But he also played in the 1978 game for Orchard Park.
Series: The North now trails the all-time series, 22-18.
Distingished alumni: There have been 29 players from the Kensington Lions All-Star Classic to either participate in an NFL team training camp or make it onto an NFL roster.
Among those players to earn all-star game Most Valuable Player honors include Frontier’s Blake Bednarz (1986), Lewiston-Porter’s Daryl Johnston (1984), Depew’s Don Majkowski (1982), Frontier’s Rob Wolfley (1981), Eden’s Bert Weidner (1984) and Niagara Falls’ James Starks (2005).
According to the All-Star Classic’s game program, there were no MVPs named prior to 1979.
Starks (Green Bay), Corey Graham (Buffalo Bills) and Brett Kern (Tennessee) are the current Lions Classic alumni playing in the NFL.