The 42nd annual Central California event nearly broke its record for combined points scored in the first half, but unfortunately for the North all the scoring in the second half was by the South in a 51-38 victory. The MVP of the game, Modesto High’s Nate Phillips, took over at quarterback after halftime due to an injury.
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Some of the best all-star football games in the state have a family feel to them. Fathers and grandfathers who have played before; coaches who have been able to guide their sons; and numerous brothers, cousins and uncles who have intersected in one last hurrah that for some is the final football game they will ever play.
In Saturday’s 42nd annual Lions All-Star Game for the Central California district of Lions Clubs International played at Tracy’s Wayne Schneider Stadium, the family connection between Game MVP Nate Phillips of Modesto High and Offensive MVP Nate Jones of Tracy High wasn’t revealed until after the game in the parking lot.
“They are actually cousins by marriage and they used to see each other a lot at family functions going back to seventh grade,” said Tracy baseball coach Vic Alkire, who also is Nate Phillips’ grandfather. “It’s amazing that they both got to play in this game and that both got MVPs.”
As stunning as Jones’ two touchdown runs for the North were – a mid-air spin to conclude a seven-yard run and an 88-yard showcase of moves – it was more impressive in one sense what Phillips did.
The multi-talented Modesto grad hadn’t taken snaps all week in practice for the South team, but was thrust into duty at halftime when South starter, Modesto Downey’s P.J. Wilson, was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Phillips and his teammates also were facing a 38-21 halftime deficit. In the second half, though, the South surged, tied the game at 38-38 heading into the fourth quarter and wound up with a 51-38 triumph.
Phillips threw a 15-yard scoring pass to Matt Vargas (Modesto Gregori) for the tying score, hit Jakob Magana (Modesto Downey) for a 2-yard TD pass for the winning score and iced the win with an 18-yard run with 30 seconds left.
“At halftime, the coaches just went up to me and broke down their playbook in about 10 minutes,” said Phillips, who will play safety next at Taylor University in Upland, Ind. “It was crazy, but everybody had to step up. It was a total team win.”
The 51-38 final score obliterated the previous best two-team total for points in the game of 38-35 set in 1996. The South’s 51-point total also broke the record of 42 set by the North in 2003.
With the win, the South has now reversed a trend of losing that had been a staple of the game since 2003 with two wins and a tie in the last three years. The North, which had won nine of 10, still leads in the series 24-16-2.
Several parents of North players were yelling up into the press box at points in the game when the South team immediately received on a kickoff following a South touchdown. While the coaches of both teams and most of the players were aware of a nine-point rule designed for the all-star game to limit the chances of a blowout, some in the crowd did not know of the rule.
Yes, the Lions All-Star Game should have done a better job of explaining to the crowd about the nine-point rule. The North team still had several chances to extend its lead or re-take the lead in the second half and was stopped.
After the South scored to cut the lead to 38-27 in the third quarter on a two-yard plunge by fullback Justin Stefani (Atwater Buhach Colony), the nine-point rule was in play so the South got the ball right back. That led to a field goal by Sean Bigham (Modesto Downey), which was followed by an onside kick recovery. It was after the onside kick recovery when the South tied the score on the TD pass by Phillips to Vargas.
In addition to catching the go-ahead TD pass on offense, Magana also came up with a pair of interceptions on defense and had an onside kick recovery. That the 5-foot-7, 150-pounder had two more picks was not a surprise since he was the reported state leader last season with 14 (a total that gets his name into the Cal-Hi Sports state record book).
“I guarantee people look at me at my size and think they can take advantage,” said Magana, who was named the game’s defensive MVP. “I love that because it gives me an advantage. I’m just very athletic at my size.”
Many of the players also talked about the experience of bonding with new teammates, even though it was just for one week. On one day of practices, the temperature reached more than 110 degrees on the field turf. On another day, it rained.
“The only thing I’d say to any guys who missed out on being in this game is that it was truly an amazing experience,” Phillips said. “I know I’ll be calling some of them for years and years to come. Then to come back the way we did. It was a truly great family atmosphere.”