By Paul Buriak
For the Mirror
JOHNSTOWN- Richland's high-powered offense put up big numbers throughout this past football season, and the Rams' contingent in Friday night's 43rd annual Ken Lantzy Finest 40 All-Star game displayed that firepower one more time.
Six of the South all-star squad's touchdowns were tallied by Richland's representatives in a 48-18 win over the North before a large crowd at Johnstown's Trojan Stadium.
A versatile performance by South offensive MVP Matt Shaffer set the tone for the contest as the Slippery Rock-bound signal caller completed 11-of-19 passes for 205 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for a game-high 116 yards and another score. "It was a privilege to play with the best of the best in the area," said Shaffer. "I couldn't have made anything happen without our line and receivers."
Shaffer's former Ram teammate Kyle Flick caught four passes for 125 yards and three scores, while Richland's Tanner Solarczyk added 70 yards rushing and two touchdowns as the South rolled up 681 yards of total offense.
"We ran the spread offense, and all of our quarterbacks went out and executed well," said South head coach Bob Landis of Somerset. "We were able to capitalize on the chemistry that these guys had with each other."
Ligonier QB Scott Fennell also went 8 of 14 for 195 yards in just one half for the South before missing the final two quarters due to an injury. Ten different South receivers caught passes as Shaffer, Fennell, and Somerset's Tanner Stull combined to throw for 420 yards.
The North managed just 252 yards of total offense and committed three turnovers. "We made it a ball game into the third quarter," said North head coach Greg Page of Homer-Center. "But they used their athletes to the best of their ability and made big plays, and things got away from us."
The South jumped out to a quick 14-0 first-quarter lead on a pair of Shaffer touchdown passes, a 2-yarder to Bishop McCort's Tyler Rugg just over two minutes into the game, and a 45-yard bomb to Flick at the 5:52 mark.
The North got on the board early in the second as a trick play capped off an 11-play, 84-yard drive. Bishop Carroll's Tyler Janosik took a pitch from QB Blake Over of Northern Bedford and then tossed a 2-yard TD pass to NB's Kyler Diehl to make it 14-6. Diehl caught three passes for 97 yards to earn North offensive back MVP honors.
A 26-yard run by Shaffer gave the South a first-and-goal later in the quarter, and two plays later Shaffer plowed in from two yards out to give his club an eventual 20-6 halftime advantage.
That edge was cut to one score early in the third when Over threw long and hit Diehl in stride for a 68-yard touchdown that pulled the North within 20-12, but the South dominated from that point forward.
Two more Flick touchdown catches, a 23-yarder from Shaffer and a 10-yarder from Stull put the South up 34-12 heading into the fourth quarter, and Solarczyk eventually put the contest away with two rushing touchdowns, a 20-yard score with 10:41 to play, and a 25-yarder that made it 48-12 at the 7:10 mark.
Over hooked up with Bedford's Kody Blevins on a 29-yard scoring pass on the last play of the game to set the final.
NOTES: Defensive line MVP's were Bishop Guilfoyle's Nick Little and North Star's Dalton Rice. Offensive line award winners were Johnstown's Grant Brandon and Bedford's Alec Jones. Defensive back MVP's were Isaac Sclesky of Cambria Heights and Somerset's Doug Berkebile. Luke DiFrancesco of Bishop McCort and Mike Newhouse of Homer Center took home the David Rizzo and Paul Shandor memorial leadership awards, while Saltsburg's Steven Richards was awarded the Arthur Palumbo Academic Scholarship and Central Cambria's Scott Bauer the Robert Gardill Scholastic Achievement Scholarshipn