Cheektowaga’s KeShone Beal wasn’t the only signal-caller on the South team during the Kensington Lions All-Star Classic, but he’s the one quarterback in the game built like a battering ram.
A South coaching staff guided by Hamburg’s Jeff Tripp and featuring Lancaster’s Eric Rupp and Bishop Timon-St. Jude’s Joe Licata made good use of Beal’s skill set. They also made good use of the explosive playmaking capabilities of All-Western New York selections Aaron Wahler and Javon Thomas of Cleveland Hill, Shaun Dolac of West Seneca East and Rashad Law of Maryvale. Mix in a defense that forced five turnovers and recorded a bunch of sacks and there’s the formula for success, as the South and its collection of senior talents beat counterparts from the North, 30-20, Wednesday night at Williamsville South High School.
An estimated 2,500 attended the 44th annual Kensington Lions All-Star Classic, a contest featuring the top seniors who aren’t playing the sport at the Division I level this season.
The South took advantage of three North turnovers during the opening half in bolting to a 17-0 lead and then survived a late comeback bid by the kids guided by Al Cavagnaro and the rest of the Starpoint Spartans coaching staff.
The 5-foot-7, 220-pound Beal proved to be a difference-making weapon for the South, much like he was during his two seasons in which he led the Warriors to back-to-back Section VI Class B championships. The offensive game MVP rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts and completed two passes for 34.
“It’s just an honor to be able to play in a game like this with people at the same competitive level,” said Beal, who will play collegiately at Alfred University. "It makes it so much better winning out here. Running over people, that’s just fun. That’s the fun part of the game.”
Beal, who earned second team and honorable mention All-Western New York honors during his two seasons as Cheektowaga’s starter, shined during South’s second scoring possession during the first quarter. He led a 79-yard march in which he rushed four times for 29 yards – bouncing off tacklers. The big play came when he threw a perfect 20-yard pass over the middle to Chautauqua Lake’s Zach Fischer, who got the South to North’s 17. Wahler capped the drive by rushing for the rest of the yardage – including a 5-yard scoring run.
“KeShone Beal was a stud today,” Tripp said. “Anytime you have a dual-threat kid like that we just wanted to let it loose.”
“Being able to watch from the sideline, if you think I’m tough to bring down I don’t even want to imagine (bringing him down),” said friend and Beal workout partner Wahler, a two-time All-Western New York first-team selection. “KeShone Beal, one of the most underrated players I have ever seen in my life.”
Jayden Schutz of Jamestown, who kicked three extra points, made it 17-0 by drilling a 43-yard field goal with 3:52 left in the second quarter.
North snapped South’s bid at posting a second straight shutout in the Classic by capping a six-play drive with a 1-yard TD run by Dylan Mann of Williamsville North with 32 seconds left. The team got into scoring position after Cam Sionko of Grand Island completed consecutive passes of 35 and 23 yards to Brendan Gawel of Starpoint and Joe Stewart of Kenmore West, and then a 29-yard hook up with Matt Spina of Starpoint.
A nine-point rule was employed, which meant that a team trailing by more than nine that scored got a chance to receive the ensuing kickoff instead of kicking it away. So the South didn’t see the ball again until early in the third quarter. The three-play 45-yard drive ended with a 3-yard TD run by Dolac. It started with 35-yard run by Thomas. Eden’s Colton Stetz then gained 27 on a quarterback keeper.
South seemingly put it away on Beal’s 2-yard TD run with 12:42 left, a score set up by Warrior teammate’s Taivaughn Roach’s fumble recovery and return of roughly 35 yards that gave the South the ball at the North 4. That made the score 30-7.
“It was a teammates thing. He helped me out,” Beal said.
Then the North made things interesting. First it was a 25-yard TD from Wilson’s Steve Frerichs to Stewart to pull within 30-14. North threatened to pull even closer then after receiving the ensuing kickoff, but Law made a diving intereption in front of the intended receiver to give South possession and a chance to milk the clock.
North pulled with 30-20 with 4:14 left on Sionko’s 7-yard TD pass to Brendan Gawel of Starpoint.
South blunted the miracle comeback by forcing turnover on downs with under a minute left, with Dolac and Dominic Chiaramonte of Lancaster recording key sacks to kill the drive. Dolac had two sacks, a fumble recovery and several tackles to earn defensive game MVP honors for the South. Chiaramonte had two sacks and was a force in the trenches in earning defensive line MVP honors for the South.
North team game MVPs were Stewart (offense), Williamsville South's Jemelle Jones (defense), Newfane's Jonah Wisniewski (offensive line) and Bennett's Jihad Loynes (defensive line).
During halftime, Lions organizers paid their respects to game co-founder Milt Dickerson, who died last April. They also honored late Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame coach John Faller of Sweet Home. Faller, a proud supporter of the game during his tenure as Panthers football coach, died July 14.
Prior to the game, Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Famer Dick Gallagher became the first recipient of the Dick Gallagher Legacy Award from Erie County Legislator John Bruso. It was presented to Gallagher as a surprise and with little fanfare. The honor will be awarded yearly to recognize individuals who dedicate their time and energy to making Western New York high school sports great.