MVP Joey Stout from Pitman of Turlock caught a TD pass, ran for a score and did more to lead the South team to a 38-13 win over the North in the annual Lions All-Star Football Game played on Saturday night at Wayne Schneider Stadium in Tracy.
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The annual all-star game for the southern part of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section (involving high schools from San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County, Merced County and other smaller counties in the Sierra Foothills) hadn’t been played since 2019 at Lincoln High of Stockton due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The game was historically significant since there were three 200-win coaches in attendance. South co-coach Trent Merzon won 225 games over his years at Oakdale (he retired from coaching after the 2022 season), one of the South assistant coaches was former Central Catholic of Modesto head coach Mike Glines (won 204 games in his career) and founder of the game Wayne Schneider (won 224 games during his career at Tracy). There are just about 100 coaches in the history of California high school football spanning more than 120 years who have won 200 games in a career.
Merzon and co-coach Tim Garcia from Davis of Modesto seemed to benefit from the South team having far fewer players that dropped off of the roster in the week leading up to the game than the North team, which was led by head coach Booker Guyton from Edison of Stockton. By the time the week was over, due to the drops, there were eight players from Edison on the North squad.
“We just had tremendous kids to work with,” said Merzon, whose son, Mick, was one of them. “They were really a pleasure to be around. The receivers and the quarterbacks were so smart that Tim was able to get in just about everything he wanted to for his offense in the one week (of practice).”
Despite that advantage, the North squad had a lead in the first half and was within striking distance until early in the fourth quarter.
After the South grabbed a 7-0 lead with 5:32 showing in the first quarter on a 78-yard run by Stout, who broke several tackles on a burst down the sidelines, the North equalized quickly on a 65-yard bomb from Jayden McKey (Tracy Kimball) to Tyree Owens (Edison).
Another Edison player, running back Johnel Pettus, then gave the North a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter on a three-yard run. Stout then scored his second TD of the game on a 22-yard pass from Eleazar Garza (Merced Golden Valley) and the successful PAT gave the South a 14-13 lead.
After taking a 24-13 lead in the third quarter on a 4-yard run by Jahkylle Smith (Merced Golden Valley) and on a 27-yard field goal by Christian Casillas (Patterson), the North squad appeared to have gotten itself back into the game when Kai Elkins (Summerville) grabbed an interception and scampered for a 30-yard touchdown. A penalty flag did drop on the play, but was picked up by one official and waved off. The referees weren’t done considering what happened, however, and as the North team was lined up to kick the PAT both teams were summoned back to the field. The initial penalty was not waved off and was enforced. It was a call of an illegal line stunt by the North defense, which had been called on the South in the first game.
Once the interception return touchdown was reversed, the South went on to score on that drive for a 31-13 lead on a 30-yard TD pass from Garza to Jaelen Nichols (Modesto Central Catholic). Smith scored the final TD of the game on a 2-yard run later in the fourth quarter.
Stout, who had another long catch and run that set up one of Smith’s rushing TDs, was voted MVP in a close call over Garza, who was named Offensive MVP of the game. Stout finished with four carries for 73 yards and nine catches for 113 yards. Garza passed for 159 yards. Smith had 56 yards rushing on 12 carries while QB Cole Gilbert (Turlock) had 72 passing yard and 25 rushing yards.
“Just to play in this game was an honor,” Stout said. “We were playing for all of them who’ve been in this game before. We knew it was going to be high intensity, but we came in prepared. It’s been awhile to have the pads on, but it also felt like being back home.”
McKey had 120 passing yards for the North, but was hurt by three interceptions. Owens ended with four catches for 92 yards.
Central Catholic’s Roland Brown, who had a pair of interceptions, was named Defensive MVP of the game. If Elkins’ pick six had held up, it’s very possible the vote for Defensive MVP might have gone in his direction.
With the win, the South won for the fourth time in the last five games of the event, which began in 1974. The North still leads with an all-time record of 26-18-2. Without the pandemic, this would have been the 50th game.
Defensive Stat Leaders (South)
Roland Brown (Central Catholic) 5 tackles, deflected pass, two interceptions
Luis Vargas (Hilmar) 10 tackles
Brock Osmundson (Oakdale) 5 tackles, sack
LeBron Stallworth (Ceres) two sacks, one pressure
Bryant Austin (Merced) 5 tackles, deflection
Jaelen Nichols (Central Catholic) 4 tackles, interception
Defensive State Leaders (North)
Barry Rhodes (Edison, Stockton) 11 tackles, interception
Kai Elkins (Summerville) 8 tackles, fumble recovery, nullified pick six
Joe Cowan (Linden) 4 tackles, forced fumble, two deflections
Alijah Cota (Manteca) 7 tackles
Christopher Hollan (Edison, Stockton) 6 tackles
Malahki McElvaine (Edison) 4 tackles, interception