Gold outlasts Red in McD’s Classic
In an all-star football game that featured 127 points, a quarterback with seven touchdowns and an unbelievable 42-0 lead for one squad, it’s a bit ironic that a defensive play would be the game-defining moment.
But that was the case in Thursday’s McDonald’s All-Star Football Classic at Andrew Leh Stadium at Nazareth High School.
After the Gold Team (comprised of players from Phillipsburg, Palisades and Northampton County) erupted for a 42-0 lead in the second quarter, the Red Team stormed back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. That was due in large part to a rule that allowed Red to receive the ball after each touchdown in the second half.
Red (consisting of players from Lehigh, Carbon and Monroe counties) then fell behind late, but was 51 yards away from a go-ahead touchdown with under a minute to play. Gold’s Daloni Caldwell of Easton, however, recovered a stripped fumble of Red quarterback Blake Levengood to seal a 65-62 victory for Gold.
“It was awesome, 42-0 to 65-62,” said Parkland wideout Nolan Ridgway said. “That’s unreal how we came back. We fought back the whole time. I’m really proud of my teammates.”
Gold’s explosive start was due in large part to Liberty quarterback Doug Erney shredding Red’s defense. Three passing scores and another rushing touchdown for Erney, who finished with over 400 passing yards and seven total touchdowns, made it a 28-0 advantage in the blink of an eye.
That lead grew to 42-0 with under four minutes to play in the half after Saucon Valley quarterback Zach Thatcher connected with Becahi’s Nate Stewart for a 98-yard bomb, followed by a strong plunge from two yards out by Saucon Valley running back Evan Culver. Levengood got Red on the scoreboard on its next possession, and then he hooked up with Ridgway for 64 yards on the very next play to make it a 42-14 ball game.
Erney came through with his fifth score of the half minutes later on a 19-yard dash up the middle of the field, seemingly ending Red’s attempt at any comeback. But that’s when the tides started to turn.
“The momentum swung in our way and everyone started getting all hyped up,” Ridgway said. “We started banging back at them. At the beginning I feel like we kind of underestimated how tough they were.”
Weber was responsible for four consecutive Red Team touchdowns that stretched into the first play of the fourth quarter, cutting Gold’s lead to 49-42. The last two fit the mold of highlight plays that Erney was putting up in the first half. He threw a 66-yard strike to Spartan wideout Ethan Price (238 receiving yards), followed by a bomb from 62 yards out to Nick Kovalchick of Whitehall.
Levengood (over 380 total yards) then added two touchdowns. He completed a 50-yarder to Ridgway (180 receiving yards), and then an 81-yarder to his high school teammate Price to put Red ahead for the first time with 8:32 remaining.
“We’ve been repping all week an out to a post,” Ridgway said of his game-tying score. “That’s what I ran on that play and just happened to get a step on him. I just went off to the races.
“The first day I was on the same page [as Weber and Levengood],” said Ridgeway. “They are two really good quarterbacks. They know from route-running where exactly to throw the ball for you. It doesn’t matter who the receiver is, they are throwing it on the dime.”
Erney and the Gold team responded with three minutes to play with Stewart’s (269 receiving yards) third touchdown reception of the game. A two-point conversion put Gold ahead with 2:59 to play. The teams traded scores over the next 1:52, but Red would have it’s opportunity down by three with more than a minute to play.
But that’s when the game’s biggest play, the forced fumble and recovery, left Red just short of a game-winning drive and sent Gold to the victory.
“They’re all very good football players and we underestimated it,” Ridgway said. “In the second half, we made our adjustments and we came out and have it to them.”
Playing the actual game and representing their schools was only one part of the story for the dozens of high school seniors selected to participate in this year’s 46th annual McDonald’s Classic. They formed a bond with players across the entire Lehigh Valley that they’ll remember for quite some time.
“It was so much fun,” said Ridgeway, who will play at East Stroudsburg University next fall. “Practice was so much fun. We were all messing around, laughing and having a good time. But we were also getting our work done.”