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South beats North in Kensington Lions game

Football's a funny game in that there's no telling how a contest will play out.

Take the 42nd Annual Kensington Lions Club All-Star High School Football Classic for example.

The game featured two of the top three quarterbacks from last season who combined to pass for roughly 4,000 yards on the same team, which would easily result in one expecting touchdowns and plenty of big plays.

Of course things didn't work out that way.

The defenses took center stage at Depew High School on Wednesday night. In a game that featured first team All-Western New York quarterback Eric Bartnik of Cheektowaga and third-team pick Dillon Janca of Orchard Park both playing on the same team, the South made just enough happen on offense to earn a 13-6 triumph over the North.

Bartnik factored in the decisive score as he scored on a 5-yard keeper early in the third quarter to break a 6-6 tie. Janca moved the chains and helped burn some clock with his arm and legs, too, in the annual game that pits most of Western New York's top graduating seniors from the past season against each other in the mid-summer game that serves as their swan songs as scholastic athletes.

But the estimated 2,000 fans saw a clash that featured more hard hits than flashy offensive plays, including a no-doubt, stopped-in-one's-tracks pop from Cleveland Hill's Matt Eldridge on North quarterback Justin Daul of Wilson near the sideline in the fourth quarter.

"We love physical football and we were working on that all week," said Eldridge, a first team All-WNY pick who earned defensive MVP honors for the South. "I love it (winning and being selected MVP). It's a great way to cap a career. … It's a great way to go out."

The folks on hand saw a fitting conclusion to this one as the South recorded a sack on the North's last offensive play – a bad snap Daul corralled before being taken down – with under a minute left. The defenses on both sides shined as the longest pass play was a 26-yard completion from Daul to Drew Butler near midfield on a drive that stalled in the second quarter.

The South yielded a total of 164 yards, including just 74 after halftime, and recovered two turnovers. The North held the South to 235 yards, including a fourth-down stop at its own 5 in the third quarter to keep it a seven-point game. But the South took advantage of field position to score the points it needed to end the North's three-game winning streak in the series.

"I like 13-6 games," winning coach Glen Graham of Cleveland Hill said. "I like defense. All-Star games aren't necessarily tilted toward that. We just wanted to be able to control the ball, play good defense … the kids did a great job with all of that."

The biggest play came courtesy of the Handley brothers of Alden as Alex recovered a fumbled punt at the North 22 forced by Michael early in the third quarter. That led to Bartnik's go-ahead score. The Warriors' signal caller was named offensive MVP for the South as he rushed eight times for 41 yards but had an interesting reaction to earning that honor for his side.

"I don't deserve this," he said. "The whole offense deserves this, especially the line and fullbacks. They're the ones who made the blocks for me."

They're the ones who helped give Bartnik the extra push needed to cross the goal line with 6 minutes, 30 seconds left in the third quarter for the go-ahead score.

"I've never had that happen before," he said. "I was stopped at the 1 and thought the whistle would be blown and then all of the sudden I felt people pushing me (forward)."

The North wasted little time getting on the board first, turning a turnover into six points. St. Joe's Jalyn Nelson's interception at the South 35 on the third offensive play of the game led to Canisius' RaeQwon Greer's 5-yard TD run just 3:34 into the game.

With only a week to prepare, the offenses of both teams struggled to find some rhythm. The South found some after taking over via downed punt at the North 44. Springville's Ian Baker capped the six-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 10:47 left in the second quarter.

On that drive the big gain came courtesy of Bartnik, who had a 13-yard gain that also drew a half-distance to the goal line penalty on the defense that gave the South a first down at North's 8.

The South's Tyler Biersbach of Depew was named lineman of the game for his side.

MVPs from the North included Greer (offense), his Crusaders teammate Sean Kennelly (lineman) and St. Joe's Michael Motley (defense).

Bartnik's Cheektowaga teammate, Seven Turpin rushed 10 times for a game-high 55 yards.

The South leads the all-time series in the game, 23-19.

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The game was dedicated to retiring Sweet Home coach John Faller, who served as an assistant on the North team. He was honored in a pregame ceremony by the Kensington Lions Club.

Under Faller's guidance, the Panthers became one of the signature programs in Western New York football. He led Sweet Home to two state championships and eight Section VI titles, posting a 217-84-1 record in 30 seasons.

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As is tradition, a percentage of the game's profits will be donated to Kids Escaping Drugs.

Last year, the Lions Club presented $10,000 to the charitable organization dedicated toward helping area youths with substance abuse problems.

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