CHARLESTON - The South was looking to extend its recent scoring explosions at Saturday night's North-South Classic, which it ultimately did, thanks to a big assist from its defense and special teams.
Nick Tubbs caught two scoring passes from Isaiah Kinder and the South scored three touchdowns on defense and special teams, breaking loose in the second half for a 46-26 victory in the 61st All-Star football game. An estimated crowd of 2,500 was on hand at Laidley Field.
It was the fifth win in a row for the South in the series, and the eighth over the last nine games.
The North led 14-13 at halftime, but the South racked up five straight TDs to start the second half -three on offense, one on defense and one on special teams - to vault into a 46-14 lead with 4:56 left in the game.
"We just went in at the half and turned it up," said South defensive lineman James Walton of Capital, who returned a fumble 10 yards for a score in the second quarter. "I think we just went in, calmed down and got all the little all-star game hype out, and just played football. We just rallied together and didn't want them to score any more."
The North wound up with more total yards (303-277), but turned the ball over five times - including one that resulted in a South touchdown.
With the South in front just 19-14 midway through the third quarter, North quarterback Zach Phillips of Wheeling Park completed a short pass to Alex Andersen to the South 18. Defensive back Kane Roush of Wahama blasted Andersen, causing a fumble that Roush later picked up at his own 25 and hot-footed into the end zone on a 75-yard scoring return.
Roush, who also had a 35-yard interception return, was selected as the South MVP in a media vote.
That vote could have easily gone to Tubbs, the Huntington receiver who grabbed eight passes for 137 yards and two scores.
"We came out and set the tone early," Tubbs said. "Coach tried to get me one-on-one matchups. That's what we've been working on in practice, and that's where I got my two touchdowns, one on one."
Tubbs's first score was a 52-yard bomb from Kinder in the first quarter and the second a 1-yard TD on a quick slant.
Besides the TDs from Roush and Tubbs, other scores in the South's five-straight-TD spree came from Winfield's Chris Turner on a 19-yard pass from Nicholas County's Tyler Sagraves, Greenbrier West's Malik Boatwright on a tricky 58-yard punt return and Jalen Jones on a 26-yard run.
Saturday's game was a near carbon copy of last year's game, in which the South broke away from a 14-all halftime deadlock to win 43-14. In that game, the South piled up 483 net yards on offense, which came a year after it gained 543 yards in a 36-28 overtime win.
The North tacked on two TDs in the final 1:07 to make the score more respectable.
Phillips was voted the North's MVP award for completing 19 of 27 passes for 218 yards and three TDs (without an interception) and gaining 28 yards on scrambles.
"We made a couple of mistakes and we were trying to push it too hard to get back," said North coach Bill Haddox of East Fairmont.
"Once they got up, our kids got a little hectic and I had to calm them down. I said, 'Let's go back to what we were doing in the first.' We tried some new stuff in the second half and it didn't work. So at the end, I said, 'Let's go back to what we started with,' and we went right down the field twice."
Chase Banker of North Marion caught two TD passes for the North, one from Phillips and one from Parkersburg's Aaron Roberts.
Kendell Smith was the top receiver for the North, landing seven passes for 120 yards and one TD, a 26-yard hookup with Phillips.
The South's defense dominated the stat sheets, collecting four sacks (2 1/2 by Khance Johnson of South Charleston) to none for the North and 14 tackles for loss compared to five for the North.
Walton's TD came after a high snap to North punter Kyle Foster of Parkersburg from his own 35. Foster seemed to have the ball covered, but it squirted loose and Walton gleefully picked it up at the 10 and scored.
"I was going in trying to block it," Walton said. "Then when I saw it going over his head, my eyes just got big. I saw him miss it and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, it's my chance.' I picked it up and I was just so excited. It was a wish, it was a dream, but I didn't think it was going to happen."
Boatwright's punt return came after a Foster punt hit the ground and rolled around for a while and the North coverage team thought the ball was going to roll dead.
But Boatwright scooped it up on the fly and dashed down the right sideline.
Kinder hit on 8 of 11 passes for 129 yards for the South.