London Smith didn't get to play in the final game of his high school career at Lackawanna due to a scary kidney injury suffered on a freak play in practice last October. The fact that contest, a Section VI semifinal, happened to be the biggest of his scholastic career just added to that frustration.
There's no turning back time, but Wednesday night's Kensington Lions All-Star High School Football Classic gave a healthy Smith a chance to go out on his own terms. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound defensive back/receiver did just that in the 43rd edition of the event featuring the area's recent graduated seniors.
Smith picked off two passes, returning the first one 34 yards for touchdown, in leading a star-studded South crew that featured eight All-Western New York first-team selections past its North counterparts, 36-0.
An estimated crowd of more than 2,000 at Williamsville South High School Athletic Complex watched as the South turned two takeaways in the first quarter into 15 quick points.
The second of those forced turnovers was Smith jumping in front of a receiver on a first-down play by the North and taking the Joe Torrillo pass to the house.
In all Smith accounted for half of the South's four takeaways. The unit posted the ninth shutout in the history of the game and first since South beat the North, 7-0, in 2010.
"After that injury I didn't know if I'd be able to play again," said Smith, an All-Western New York second-team selection at defensive back. "I was really looking forward to (this game). I'm glad I was able to come out here and just play. I'm glad my team got the win too."
"He's a ball hawk," added Lackawanna coach Adam Tardif. "He's been that way his whole career."
Smith played a key role in the Steelers winning seven of their first eight games as the quarterback of a hard-hitting, stingy defense. A few days after a playoff win over Pioneer, though, Smith suffered a lacerated kidney in practice on a non-contact play. He dove to make a catch during a drill. In doing so, he landed on the football, which caused the kidney to rupture, according to Tardif.
Smith had to be taken to the hospital after the injury. He wound up being cleared to play basketball, missing just three games. The kidney healed to the point where he was given the green light to resume his football career.
Smith, along with twin brother Noble and their Steelers teammate Khalil Horton, plan to play at Erie Community College in hopes of catching the eye of a Division I program.
Should London Smith deliver more performances like Wednesday's with the Kats, that shouldn't be a problem.
Smith was supposed to play deep on his first interception. It didn't work out that way and that wound up being a good thing as his 34-yard TD return came 11 seconds after Jacob Maurino's 3-yard TD run gave the South a lead it never relinquished.
"I was just looking to making a play," Smith said. "I just trusted my instincts and went after it and made a good play and we just rolled all the way until the end."
Smith then preserved the shutout during the second quarter when he stepped in front of seemingly wide open receiver in the back of the end zone.
"I actually got beat a little bit," Smith said. "I recovered, I used my speed to get back and was in position to catch the ball."
While Smith had two huge plays, there were no shortage of prime-time players on both sides of the ball for the South. Lancaster star and future Bryant University linebacker Joe Andreessen earned defensive MVP honors for his team, recording two sacks and at least 10 tackles.
He also fueled the team's first scoring drive as once it switched to the big wildcat with Andreessen (five rushes, 36 yards) under center, the South started gaining yardage by chunks.
That also opened the door for the regular offense, with Alden's Bryan Cybulski at quarterback, to pile on points. Cybulski tossed two touchdown passes, including a 19-yarder to Bulldogs teammate Christian Snell with 15 seconds left in the second quarter to stake South to a 22-0 halftime lead. Cybulski completed 13 passes for 137 yards and rushed seven times for 85 yards to earn offensive MVP honors for the winners.
West Seneca West's Vinny Draper earned offensive lineman of the game honors for the winners.
"It's like having a bunch of toys," South coach Jim Maurino said of the versatile talents he had at his disposal. "I can put an Andreessen here and a Jordan Hill (Bishop Timon-St. Jude) there and a (Lancaster's Ben) Damiani there. … The goal was to give as many guys touches."
It worked as 15 different players received touches for the South, which now leads the all-time series 24-19.
Most Valuable Players of the Game for the North were Brad Currell of Canisius (offensive line), Alec Miller of Williamsville South (offense) and Rodney Bailey of Hutch-Tech (defense).
The game was dedicated to the late Edmund J. "Doc" Gicewicz, the former University at Buffalo football team physician and Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame member, who passed away last March. He was 89.
Gicewicz was a three-sport star at UB, earning little All-American honors in football in 1952. He turned down invitations to try out for NFL teams so that he could attend medical school.
Gicewicz, who also played baseball and basketball at UB and later founded the university's sports medicine institute, was a longtime supporter of the Kensington Lions game. He served as team physician of the Lions Club game for more than 20 years. He also served as guest speaker during the Lions Club All-Star Players' banquet.
As is tradition, a percentage of the game's profits will be donated to Kids Escaping Drugs. The Lions Club presented $10,000 to the charitable organization dedicated toward helping area youths with substance abuse problems.
Fathers coaching sons was an unofficial theme in this game. The North featured the father-and-son duo of coach Mike Torrillo of Williamsville East and quarterback Joe Torrillo of Sweet Home. The South, meanwhile, had West Seneca East's Jim Maurino coaching his boys, twins Jacob and Jared, one last time.