Tyran Daniels from Thomas Downey of Modesto sparks South to 28-20 win over the North in 43rd Central California Lions All-Star Football Game held on Saturday night in Tracy. Eleven combined turnovers made it a sloppy contest, but once again it was hard-fought to the wire in one of the state’s top all-star football games.
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It wasn’t the 51-38 scorefest or even more that some had thought would transpire in Saturday night’s Lions All-Star Football Game played at Wayne Schneider Stadium in Tracy, but the 28-20 win by the South (which is for players mainly from the Modesto area) over the North (players mainly from the Stockton area) offered plenty of intrigue.
From the very first play that the North ran, Tyran Daniels from Thomas Downey of Modesto intended to make his presence known as a hard-hitting free safety with plenty of speed. A finalist in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section 100-meter dash and a Cal-Hi Sports NorCal Defensive Player of the Week, Daniels knocked a North ball carrier into that team’s bench on that play and while it might have been a questionable late hit it set the tone for how he’d play the rest of the night.
Daniels made the biggest play of the game on the final play of the first half. With the North trying to score on a Hail Mary pass on that play, Daniels came up with the interception two yards deep into his own end zone, then brought it out. He eventually returned the ball all the way to other side of the field and then sped down the sidelines for a 102-yard touchdown.
There were three flags on the field, however, that were thrown during the play. After the officials conferred for several minutes, the touchdown was allowed and a North player was ejected for personal fouls.
“I knew immediately I was taking it out,” said Daniels, who also had another interception in the game, broke up two other passes and had five tackles on his way to being named MVP. “I didn’t know there were flags, but just kept going, trying not to get caught. I did the same thing in my junior year in round one of the playoffs against Antelope.”
After that touchdown, the South had a 14-6 lead at halftime. In the third quarter, the North surged in front on a 14-yard touchdown run by Brandon Zaunbrecher (Stockton St. Mary’s) and on a 16-yard touchdown pass by Dylan Byrd (San Andreas Calaveras) to Sean Hamilton (Stockton McNair). Both drives came after South turnovers, one of which was returned 50 yards down to the South 9-yard line by Nick Arnaiz (Lodi Tokay).
The two teams both had opportunities in the fourth quarter, but the South finally put together a long drive, mostly on running plays, and with 7:37 left scored on a two-yard run by Adam Herrera (Los Banos). Gnacio Oliveres (also Los Banos), a kicker who was a late addition to the roster, then booted the PAT (his third of the game) for a 21-20 lead.
The North team, which barely missed on several possible long touchdown passes either by a bad throw or a drop, never could reclaim the lead. With 15 seconds left, the North had the ball on its down 15-yard line but on the next play Jacob Days (Modesto Central Catholic) intercepted a pass and scored on a 27-yard return with eight seconds left.
“It was definitely a great week and a lot of fun,” said Herrera, named as the game’s Offensive MVP with 75 yards rushing and two TDs. “I wish I could play an entire season with these guys.”
Herrera came into the night not expecting to have a chance to be an MVP, but became the South team’s primary quarterback when Adam Olsen (Oakdale) suffered a thumb injury early in the game.
“All I was thinking about beforehand was defense,” said Herrera, who will play next at Humboldt State. “It was hard at first, but then we ran up the middle a few times, they had to adjust and then we were trying the outside.”
It was a difficult decision among the media members in the press box to decide the Defensive MVP. At first, the thought was to make Herrera the MVP and Daniels the defensive MVP, but the North team didn’t really have one offensive player who stood out, with the possible exception of Zaunbrecher, who also scored on a 13-yard run in the first half to go with his 14-yarder in the second half. Instead, the sentiments went toward Daniels as the MVP with Herrera the offensive MVP and looking to the North for a Defensive MVP.
It didn’t take long to settle on Shane Torre, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound defensive end from Calaveras (San Andreas). He had 10 tackles, but stood out because five of them were for losses (including one sack). If the North had won the game, however, the second-half plays of Arnaiz (two fumble recoveries) may have been the difference. He was strongly considered as well.
In addition to Daniels and Days, also collecting interceptions for the South were Austin Martins (Newman Orestimba) and Alec Espos (Patterson).
With all of the running plays, the North had three players reach double-digit totals in tackles – Nate Turner (Tracy) with 12, Jonathan Phillips (Stagg) with 10 and Torre. Both Brandon Sanders (Stockton St. Mary’s) and Deon White (Stockton Chavez) also had interceptions while Marcus Rivas (Manteca) had a fumble recovery.
With the win, the South cut its deficit in the all-time series to 24-17-2 and has now gone 3-0-1 in the last four years after a long run of success by the North.
“We had our chances,” said North head coach Don Norton (Stockton Stagg). “We definitely could have won that game.”
“It took strategy on the sidelines. It took scheme. It took adjustments and substitutions. It took it all,” South head coach Rob Cozart (Patterson) told the Modesto Bee. “It was a great way for guys to end their high school career.”