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It’s difficult for local high school football all-star games that are held in the summer to get Division I signed quarterbacks to participate. Most of the time, their future colleges already are working with them.
That’s why it was a rare treat to see Aaron Zwahlen from Downey of Modesto leading the South team against the North during Saturday’s 40th annual Central California Lions All-Star Classic at Modesto Junior College.
Zwahlen, who passed for 3,800 yards and 49 TDs for Downey last season, has all the attributes of a D1 quarterback. He showed them all in an MVP performance during a 17-14 triumph by the South squad.
After the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder threw a 30-yard TD pass to Bradley Adamson of Merced and ran for a 6-yard score in the third quarter, the North rallied to tie the game 14-14 with 2:33 remaining.
Both teams then had their chances to go in front, but Zwahlen ended up with the last laugh. He completed a 23-yard pass to Atwater’s Matt Parker with 15 seconds left to get his team inside the 20-yard line and then with four seconds left kicked (yes, kicked) a game-winning 35-yard field goal.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever kicked in a game,” said Zwahlen, who finished with 287 yards passing. “I punted last season but never place-kicked. It felt good. I practiced with it all week.”
Zwahlen was joined by several family members who had played in previous Lions All-Star games over the years and was glad he was able to do it.
“It’s a huge honor to represent the South,” said Zwahlen, who will leave in one week to start a two-year Mormon mission before he heads to the University of Hawaii to begin his collegiate career. “This is just the second time in 10 years that the South has won and I hope this breaks the chain.”
North quarterback Zack Johnson from Kimball of Tracy began to match Zwahlen for offensive excitement in the second half. Johnson scored the team’s first touchdown late in the third quarter and on a 32-yard run and then ran it up the middle for a 9-yard score. That was followed by two-point conversion run by Manteca Sierra’s Anthony Cota that tied the score.
“It was a great opportunity and a lot of fun,” Johnson said of his efforts. “I had seen Aaron’s stats all season and was happy we came back. The first half was slow, but we all picked it up in the second half.”
Johnson’s quick feet and ability to make people miss in the open field had some in the press box wondering if he was recruited to play slot receiver.
“A few places wanted me to walk-on and do that, but I’d rather come here (Modesto JC) and try to be a spread quarterback,” he said.
A lack of size (5-11, 180) and playing just seven games in his senior season likely hurt Johnson’s quarterback opportunities, but he was proud to point out that his father is 6-foot-5 and it’s clear he’s not about to give up on what he really wants to do.
It was an easy choice of Zwahlen to be the game’s MVP and for Johnson to be named Offensive MVP. On the defensive side of the ball, however, the candidates were more plentiful.
With seven tackles, including one sack and one forced fumble, Oakdale’s Hondo Arpoika ended up getting that honor. Arpoika, who also was chosen by South coaches before the game as the team’s most inspirational player, was joined by brother Miko Arpoika and Oakdale teammate Bastian Jimenez as standouts on that side of the ball. All three laughed when asked if chasing all those speedsters from Serra of Gardena in their last game (the CIF Division II state bowl game) made it easier in Saturday’s contest.
The North had two players that also received votes for Defensive MVP. Outside rusher LeeAndre Fisher from Chavez of Stockton, who brought his prom date to the Lions All-Star banquet back in April, was all over the field and in on an estimated 11 tackles. Safety Oshea Washington from Lincoln of Stockon was credited with nine tackles and came up with a spectacular 65-yard interception and return that was a major reason for the North team’s comeback.
The North’s most inspirational player was 6-foot-6, 300-pound lineman Daniel Lyle from Argonaut of Jackson, who didn’t play in the game due to an injured knee but came out to every practice and kept on trying to get ready, hoping he’d be good enough to go by Saturday.
UnSung Heroes of the Week
North: Darren Vallelunga (Summerville, Tuolomne)
The 5-10, 205-pound lineman gave up a lot of size to other players during the week and in the game, but consistently battled and did so switching from center to guard, left to right. “He’s an amazing kid,” said North head coach Jason Weathersby. “We asked him to do a lot all week. Did a great job.”
South: Efrem Grimes (Enochs, Modesto)
“I’m sure nobody really noticed him, but we sure did,” said South head coach Kevin Swartwood of the 6-foot, 205-pound running back. “He’s the one who blocked on the perimeter. He did very well on the sweeps and helped limit those coming to rush Aaron.”
More Breakout Performers
North: Brandon Camara (Sonora)
The 6-0, 200-pound fullback linebacker recovered a fumble late in the game and early on stopped the South by knocking away a pass on a fourth down play. Also was checked off for six other tackles.
South: Maury Moore (Beyer, Modesto)
He had 65 yards rushing in the first half and was the most explosive ball carrier during the game. He also made four tackles on defense. Moore is 6-0, 175 and has outstanding versatility.
South: Joel Openshaw (Hughson)
He’s a 6-7, 215-pound defensive end who could certainly fill out after high school and then who knows what could happen. He wasn’t as active as the Oakdale players, but made some plays in the second half that were noticed.