By Guy Dossi
For The Union Democrat
MODESTO—For the past nine years, bragging rights in the Lions High School Central California All-Star Football Game have belonged to the North team.
Saturday evening’s 39th annual gridiron classic was no different as the North defeated the South 30-0
The game, which was played at its new home at Modesto Junior College, was the first shutout in 19 years and two Sonora Wildcat contributed heavily in the victory.
Nolan Dambacher and Joey Schultz both played key roles in the win, as they put on the green and gold helmet for the final time.
Dambacher played linebacker and ended the game with 10 tackles, five of which were solo.
His first tackle came early in the contest.
The South had taken the opening drive of the game 20 yards down field to their own 40. The North forced a fourth down and the South decided to gamble and go for it.
South Quarterback Marshall McKay, of Beyer, kept the ball on a naked bootleg to his right and had the first down in his sights.
Like a flash of lightning, Dambacher plowed over a blocker and made a strong tackle inches before Marshall got to the first down marker, forcing a turnover on downs.
“I was trying to do my job,” said Dambacher. “He (McKay) kinda cut it outside so I read it well and our defensive linemen took on some of their linemen which set me free. I got a good angle and was able to make the tackle.”
The North was unable to capitalize on the Dambacher tackle, as they too turned the ball over on downs, which seemed to be the theme for both teams throughout the first quarter.
The North had a golden opportunity early, having the ball on the South’s 10 yardline, only to fumble the ball right back into the hands of their opponent.
“I was excited but I did have the jitters,” said Dambacher. “Once the game started, they all went away and I just wanted to hit somebody.”
With the second quarter under way, the North put together an impressive drive which lasted over four minutes.
With the ball resting on the South’s 35, North Quarterback Gino Franceschetti, of Escalon, took the snap and threw a pass into the end zone for Ryan Wood, of Stagg, who made a brilliant circus catch for a touchdown, giving the North a lead they would never relinquish.
Later in the second quarter, Dambacher stepped up again for the North. He made another fourth-down tackle on a South ball carrier, adding to his six first-half tackles.
The North was able to get three more points before the half ended on a short field goal by Franceschetti.
With under a minute to play in the first half, the South got some momentum and moved the ball down the field, with the help of some good passing, and penalties by the North.
The South tried a last second 37-yard field goal as time expired, but the kick was wide right and the North led 10-0 at the half.
The third quarter was strangely reminiscent to that of the first.
There was a fumble, turnover on downs, and an inability to put a strong drive together. But that all changed with 1:57 left in the third.
North specialty quarterback Brian Wood, of Stagg, kept the ball on a QB keeper, and scampered 40 yards up the right sideline, down to the South 3. Two plays later Franceschetti took the ball into the endzone behind the block of offensive linemen Joey Schultz, giving the North a 17-0 lead.
“We all just came together on that play,” said Schultz. “We knew we had to score. We knew we had to keep the intensity up and we had to get the score. So we (the offensive line) just gave a big push and got it.”
Watching intently from the North sideline was Dambacher who was proud of his fellow Wildcat.
“Joey is one of my best friends and we’ve been playing together from Pop Warner all the way to the end of high school, so I’m really happy I got to be here with Joey,” said Dambacher.
The first play of the fourth quarter must have appeared to be déjà vu for Wildcat fans as Dambacher came one-on-one with an old friendly foe from Oakdale.
Oakdale running back and Valley Oak League MVP Marcus Hernandez took a pitch to the left and ran into a brick wall that was Dambacher. The two came in contact like two Mac trucks, like they have done many times over the past four years.
“That was Marcus and we are friends,” said Dambacher. “But he is from Oakdale and I’m from Sonora so I had to win that battle so I took him down. I think I won that one.”
The North added 13 points in the fourth quarter, the final coming on the last play of the game as Patrick Thompson, of West, ran the ball 45 yards into the end zone following a great block downfield by Schultz, ending the game at 30-0.
Thompson was not the only one running the ball for the North. Schultz got his chance to show off his running ability getting one carry in the fourth quarter, which he had to persuade head coach Brian Gray to give him the rock.
“I used to be a running back so it was cool to get to do that for the last time,” said Schultz. “I really had to talk the coach into letting me do it. I had to talk him into it for half the fourth quarter.”
Coach Gray had no regrets about letting his linemen Schultz run the ball, and was glad to have two Sonora players on this team.
“We all love those Sonora Boys,” said Gray. “They are some special kids and if I could always coach kids like that I would coach till I’m 100. Those are solid young men who are good kids in our society and we are better having people like that walk this planet.”
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