FOOTBALL: Locals help lead South to victory at Charlie Wedemeyer All-Star game

Gilroy's Jourdan Soares runs the ball for the South as Santa Clara's Kingsley Okakpu during the Silicon Valley Youth Classic 38th Annual Charlie Wedemeyer All-Star game Wednesday at Westmont High School in Campbell.

Jourdan Soares said statistics could have been tossed out the window. That coming from a guy who shredded defenses in amassing more than 1,400 receiving yards last fall. But as candid as ever, the Gilroy High speedster astutely stated that the only thing on the minds of the 45 players suited up for the South prior to the 38th annual Charlie Wedemeyer Silicon Valley Youth Classic All-Star football game was finding a way to carve out a win.

Soares delivered the numbers to the tune seven catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. But it was Andrew Nwachuku and a sturdy South defense that made sure once and for all that the South – a roster that included Mustangs Niko Fortino and Alfredo Mireles and Christopher High’s Dillon Babb, Marcus Harrell and Bryant Cid – walked away with its goal fulfilled.

Nwachuku (Piedmont Hills) intercepted Mike Butler’s (Mountain View) pass in the end zone with 3.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to preserve a 26-21 South victory – its third straight at the Santa Clara County outgoing senior showcase.

“I didn’t care what stats I had as long as we won,” Soares said. “This game is so much of a tradition. All the suspense, the battle. I respect everyone on that other team. We played as a family. I thought it was going to fun, but I didn’t think it was going to be this fun. This is probably my favorite game of high school. Winning this game right now feels like winning the Super Bowl.”

Because of a new rule by the NCAA that no longer allows Football Bowl Subdivision schools to host all-star games, the contest was moved from San Jose State’s Spartan Stadium to Westmont High School. The intimate setting added to the aura and drama. Big plays filled the smaller-than-usual venue, which housed a capacity crowd – and then some.

The North, which nearly rallied twice from two scores down, had traveled 60 yards in 1 minute to get the ball down to the South’s 21-yard line with 10 seconds left before Nwachuku thwarted the comeback.

“The last 30 seconds were just crazy. This is probably the most memorable game I’ve had so far,” Babb said, who split a double team to come up with a key sack on the North’s final drive, jarring the ball loose for a moment before a North player pounced on the offering.

“I don’t even remember it to be honest. Coach told me to get a sack and I went for it,” Babb added.

The South took it to the North in the first quarter, building a 13-0 lead 12 minutes into the ball game. Tony Ulu (Independence) plunged 1-yard into the end zone – a score set up by a Mitch Ravizza (Willow Glen) 7-yard toss to Harrell down to goal line – for the South’s first six points. Ravizza (11-of-13 for 99 yards, four carries, 42 yards) then connected with Soares on a pretty fade to the back right corner for a 8-yard touchdown. That seven points was set up by a Ravizza-to-Soares 38-yard gainer.

The second quarter, though, belonged to the North, which tallied 14 unanswered points – including a interception turned 25-yard touchdown by Tyler Bond (Homestead) – to grab a 14-13 advantage at halftime.

“At halftime, we all understood that we were down, but we are all going to come back,” Soares said. “It was such a team effort.”

The South put the finishing touch on its second double-digit lead after Johnny Beard (Piedmont Hills) scampered 61 yards to pay dirt on the second play of the fourth quarter.

Troy Doles’ (Saratoga) 5-yard touchdown run pulled the North within five, 26-21, with seven minutes left. A missed field goals at the end of a South 5-minute drive returned the ball to the North with 2:12 to play and 80 yards to go.

“It was a classic matchup of David and Goliath,” South head coach Norm Brown said. “They were giant. We knew they had a lot of talent. Our hats go out to the North. They took us all the way down to the end. That’s how an all-star game should finish.”

Soares’ contribution wasn’t just on offense. Lined up wide on punt coverage, Soares smothered Kaelum Harvey (Oak Grove) as he received the punt, knocking out the ball, which landed neatly in Soares’ hands. The special teams play led to a James Johnson (Willow Glen) field goal – his second of the third quarter.

“That was nice. I went to hit him, the ball came out and it was right there,” Soares said.

Cid recorded four tackles, one that stalled an early North drive. Harrell carried the ball three times for seven yards and caught two passes for 11 yards. Fortino shared time with Ravizza and Leland’s Jason Habash, taking snaps in two series in the second quarter. And Mireles protected the South quarterbacks’ blindsides for a majority of the game.

The six locals, clearly basking in the moment, came together for a group picture following a rousing South celebration.

“We all grew up together,” Harrell said. “We had the Severance Bowl, but this last high school game we got to play together. The practices, the drives to and from, all memories that will for sure last forever.”

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