Jun. 26—Sullivan's William Newby started and finished the scoring with a pair of huge plays Saturday night at Memorial Stadium and the Black Squad flashed some star power in beating the Gold Squad 36-12 in the annual Wabash Valley Football Coaches Association All-Star Game.
Coach Mark Raetz of the Black Squad got great production from some of his Northview standouts like Braxton Sampson, Dillon White, Donavin Cherry, Vinny Bonomo, Easton Morgan and Colton McKee, which helped enable the team to overcome a whopping 153 yards in penalties.
Both teams had shaky starts — eventually abandoning their kicking games altogether — and an early touchdown pass from Gold's Aden Brenton (Casey) to Peyton Hawkins (South Vermillion) was wiped out by a penalty on that team. Then Newby broke a 68-yard touchdown run less than four minutes into the game, and Black led the rest of the way.
The game's second first down — Newby's TD was the first — didn't come until the final play of the first quarter, two plays before an interception near the end zone by Gold's Gavin Stephens (Owen Valley) stopped a Black series. Gold couldn't get past its own 11-yard line after the takeaway, however, and Black needed to drive just 22 yards to a touchdown scored by Indian Creek's Aidan Neathery.
Neathery threw to Terre Haute North's Sammy Saunders, playing a surprising position, for the 2-point conversion and Saunders immediately earned 15 of those penalty yards.
"I said to myself, 'If I get the ball I'm gonna Gronk-spike it,' " Saunders said after the game, during which he was an offensive player rather than playing his usual linebacker/defensive end role.
"I was H-back, fullback and wingback all week," he said. "That's not my position, but in a game like this you just do whatever and you do it 100%. I was confident in my defense that we were gonna win [and the penalty wouldn't matter]."
Gold responded with a 56-yard drive in 11 plays, Noble Johnson of Parke Heritage drawing a pass interference play that kept the drive alive, then grabbing a 16-yard scoring pass from Brenton. Johnson, already practicing with his Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College team, had driven eight hours on Thursday to practice with the Gold Squad once, then was the game's leading receiver with four catches.
That score wasn't a momentum changer, however, because Black had time to drive 53 yards and score in the last minute before halftime. White found Sampson — playing tight end on offense, linebacker on defense and on at least one of the special teams — for the touchdown, then threw to Derrius White of Mattoon for the 2-point conversion.
"That was our bread-and-butter play [at Northview] during the season," Sampson said later. "I just had to catch it."
"Braxton is just a special kid," Raetz said. "The people in our community have known that for a long time, and more people found out this week."
Playing as much as he did was "something we worked on in practice," said Sampson, the only multiple scholarship award winner. "I expected [and wanted] to go both ways."
The second half included more long drives, but with Black making the bigger plays.
After Gold didn't pick up a first down following the second-half kickoff, Black went 79 yards in 10 plays including a 52-yard connection from Neathery to Sampson — the game's leading receiver in yardage — and a 26-yard pass from White to Olney's Braeden Burgener before Cherry scored on a 6-yard run.
Gold responded by going 64 yards in 13 plays, quarterback Brenyn Winningham of Lawrenceville scoring on a 1-yard run, but then Black clinched the game with the help of a couple of breaks.
First, White and Bonomo collided in the backfield on an attempted handoff, but Bonomo ended up with the ball and raced 29 yards to the Gold 9-yard line. Then, facing fourth-and-14, the Black squad completed a pass to the 2-yard line but also committed a holding penalty. Instead of taking the result of the play and having the ball at the 2, Gold elected to let Black run a fourth-and-32 play and the speedy Newby caught a screen pass and rambled to the end zone.
"That was something else," Newby said afterward. "I was saying, 'Please give me the ball back.' " The screen was there and it was beautiful."
"I thought our kids played hard," Raetz said after the game. "We had a great week of practice, and we had really good players, and I think it showed tonight."
Despite the loss, Gold coach Rob Gibson of Owen Valley said the week was enjoyable.
"It was a blast," he said after the game. "We want to win the game, but after the game we don't care about the score. Things we did this week we'll remember forever. The relationships we built will last a lifetime, and that's what we care about."
"I had a blast," Sampson said. "Meeting new people, guys you've played [against] for four years, and you realize they're just like me, and they love the game."
"It was the camaraderie with the boys," Saunders said. "Everybody is good, everybody is eager to play, everybody is excited to play. Everybody is having fun."
"It was a blast, the most fun game I've ever played," said Newby, "and it was a chance to get revenge on Owen Valley [for a sectional loss in the fall], showing what I had left in the tank."
—Scholarship awards — As always, scholarships were presented to players from both teams. Some of them were recognized Friday night at the WVFCA banquet and re-introduced on Saturday, others were a result of game action.
Awards picked by the all-star coaches went to Hawkins and the Gold Squad, Matthew Gordon of Mattoon and the Black Squad. The Jay Barrett Foundation Scholarships were won by Mekhi Moore of Terre Haute South (Gold) and Sampson. Lineman scholarships went to Jett Massey of Monrovia (Gold) and Weston Rowe of North Vermillion (Black). The Eitel Scholarship for academics was won by Ryan Schultz of Lawrenceville (Gold).
Chosen during the game were the Good Night Irene Scholarship, presented in memory of former Terre Haute North coach Wayne Stahley, to Newby and the Foli Family Player of the Game Scholarship which went to Sampson.
—In other competitions — Terre Haute South won the 7-on-7 tournament earlier Saturday and Owen Valley won the Strongman Competition in weightlifting.
—Swan songs — Two fixtures on all-star coaching staffs may have helped for the final time on Saturday night. Troy Johnson, whose coaching lineage includes Terre Haute South and Marshall (his alma mater), has retired as head coach and dean of students at Mattoon, and Aaron Edwards, a Terre Haute North graduate and a member of Mark Raetz's staffs for a long time, has taken a job at Ben Davis.