For one night, the Canisius versus St. Joe’s rivalry did not exist. The proof came courtesy of Crusaders coach Rich Robbins.
Although he wasn’t coaching in the 41st edition of the Kensington Lions Club All-Star Football Classic, the standing-room only crowd of an estimated 2,500 saw him openly rooting for Darren Thompson to reach the end zone on electrifying 78-yard touchdown run on North’s first play of the second half.
That was one of two touchdowns by Thompson, who delivered an MVP performance that enabled the North to edge the South, 29-26, at Tonawanda High School’s Clinton H. Small Stadium. Thompson finished with 170 yards and a TD on 13 carries, ran in a two-point conversion and also caught an 11-yard scoring pass that provided the decisive points for the North, which posted its third straight win in the annual all-star game featuring the area’s top senior talents from the just completed season.
“Coming out, I knew this was the last time I’d get to wear this high school helmet,” said Thompson referring to his signature St. Joe’s head gear. “I just had to give it my all. … Being MVP is a great feeling but I didn’t do it by myself.”
Thompson received plenty of help from his all-star teammates, including those from his dreaded blue-and-gold rival. On the TD run that turned a three-point North lead into a 22-12 advantage, Thompson cut back to his right through the open hole and flaunted the speed that enabled him to win a state Catholic track and field championship last spring. Thompson received a key downfield block from Canisius’ Justin Jones.
While that play unfolded, Robbins led the cheers from the sideline as Thompson matched the record for the longest run in Kensington Lions Club All-Star Game history.
“He’s a good kid … I have a lot of respect for him,” Robbins said. “You’re not Canisius-St. Joe’s” during this game.
“I didn’t mind the Canisius coach rooting for me because we’re all family in this game,” said Thompson, who hopes to play football and run track at Buffalo State. “I was really pumped to open the second half with that run.”
The play is what North coach Greg Bronson hoped would happen when his team won the coin toss and deferred to the second half.
Thompson became the workhorse running behind All-Western New York first team tackle Sam Wray of Starpoint along with fellow All-Catholic and St. Joe’s teammate Dan Carr and Canisius’ Trench Trophy finalist Rich Roberson. Thompson rushed for 103 yards in the second half on six carries to help Bronson win his last game as a coach. Bronson stepped down from the Lockport post he held for nine season so that he can watch his son play college football at University of Rochester.
“I hope he has fun watching his son in college,” Jones said.
“You couldn’t have written a more perfect script … I feel like I’m extremely blessed,” said Bronson. “I think it’s significant the game was close. All elements of our team had to contribute in order for us to win.”
With the rivals turned teammates leading the charge.