Red defense dominates McDonalds All-Star Classic
Parkland's defense this past fall was a big reason why the Trojans captured a district championship and made a run in the state playoffs.
Three of those defensive players had an opportunity to suit up for one more high school game. They did so with an emphatic performance in last week's annual McDonald's Football Classic.
The Red Team (comprised of players from Lehigh, Carbon and Monroe counties) rode two interception returns for touchdowns by Northwestern Lehigh players to a 29-27 victory in the 45th Annual McDonald's Lehigh Valley All-Star Football Classic held at Nazareth High School's Andrew Leh Stadium. The Red Team forced Gold (made up of seniors from Northampton County, Phillipsburg and Palisades) into six turnovers that resulted in 26 points.
"The defense was huge," said Parkland linebacker Preston Saylor. "We came up with a couple of big plays that really turned this game around for us."
Parkland's Stephen Ewald also saw time at linebacker for Red, while lineman Amir Wallace played a big role in the team's front five on defense last Thursday night. Wide receiver Gabe Clark and offensive lineman Shane Fisher rounded out the Trojans' selections in the McDonald's game.
It didn't take long for Red to light up the scoreboard. On the first play of Gold's second position, East Stroudsburg North's Anthony Cruz came up with a fumble recovery that gave the ball back to his Red counterparts. Two plays later, Southern Lehigh's Travis Edmond hooked up with Northwestern's Cam Richardson for a 14-yard touchdown that made it a quick 6-0 game just 3:19 into action.
But after that initial offensive score off a lost fumble by Gold receiver Josh Williams of Bangor, the defensive barrage really got started.
Looking to respond on the ensuing drive, the Gold Team decided to go for it on fourth and one deep in their own territory. That decision not to punt ended up hurting Gold mightily, as Northwestern lineman Chris Trumbauer intercepted a screen pass and returned it 28 yards to push Red's lead to 12-0 after a failed two-point conversion.
"Defense is a little bit easier to come together," Saylor said. "The offense has to install different plays and some new stuff that they've never done. On defense, you just read and you play. Our defense came together really well. We have a bunch of good schools playing together, and we have good chemistry on the defensive side."
The Gold squad scored two touchdowns 3:51 apart in the second quarter to seize momentum. Palisades' Christian Gretzinger capped Gold's first drive in the quarter with a 12-yard touchdown run, and Easton's Dalvyn Reynolds scampered 44 yards for a score to make it a 13-12 advantage moments later.
But it was another defensive halt from Red that gave it some breathing room in the third quarter. Northwestern's Taylor Breininger read a flat route and jumped the receiver for an interception that resulted in a 56-yard score to give Red a 22-13 lead.
Gretzinger kept Gold alive with a 45-yard touchdown run to open the fourth, but Dieruff's Chris Marks' quarterback sneak gave Red a 29-20 lead with 3:09 to play.
Liberty's Josiah Wright hit Palisades' Devin Ramsden on a flee-flicker 40-yard touchdown throw in the final moments to pull Gold to within two points, but Red was able to run the clock out.
"We don't want to come out with a loss in our last high school game," Saylor said, "but it was a great game to play in."
While the Red Team came away with the victory, there was plenty more to play for than just a tally in the win column. It was a chance to make new friendships and support a good cause in the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
"It's playing for a great cause," Saylor said. "It's one more time to put on a high school uniform and play against other high school players before we go off to college."