Through three quarters, the 61st annual Grange Insurance Ohio North-South Classic was a defensive struggle.
But a hail of big plays in the fourth quarter helped the North side win going away. The North took a 34-13 win in the all-star game before 5,910 Saturday night at Columbus Crew Stadium.
“Our defensive front was great all week,” said North coach Vic Whiting of Canal Fulton Northwest. “They were the strongest part of our team. We could hardly move the ball in practice because they were all over us. That pressure made a difference in this game, too.
“In the second half, they took over. We were able to control the football a little bit more for them and it made a big difference.”
The North was led by game MVP Ricky Stanzi, an Iowa-bound quarterback from Mentor Lake Catholic. He was 8 of 12 passing for 178 yards and three touchdowns.
“The field position helped us out a lot,” Stanzi said. “The last time I played a game was in the fall. Just to get back on the field was nice. It’s an honor to even be in this game and to win on top of it made it even better.
“I’m just going to go out to Iowa and do what I have to do to help the team.”
The North offensive MVP was wide receiver Marc Krauss from Hamler Patrick Henry. He had four catches for 59 yards and two touchdowns.
“Both touchdown passes were beautiful,” Krauss said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I just had to make the catch. Playing on a stage like this with all of these great players, it was kind of cool.
“We really wanted to come in here and make a statement and represent northern Ohio.”
The defensive MVP was Ohio State-bound defensive end Robert Rose of Cleveland Glenville. He was credited with two tackles-for-loss, one sack and a number of quarterback pressures throughout the game.
“This was just practice,” Rose said. “I think it was preparing me for the next level. I didn’t have a great night like I should have. But with all of the schemes and them keeping the tight end in (to block), I thought I did good for that.”
The South offensive MVP was Reynoldsburg wide receiver Armand Robinson, who had eight catches for 111 yards and one touchdown. The defensive MVP was Boston College-bound defensive end Alex Albright of Cincinnati St. Xavier. He had eight tackles, three tackles-for-loss and two sacks.
Nate Davis of Bellaire went the distance at quarterback for the South as backup Alex Earley of Huber Heights Wayne was injured. Davis, headed to Ball State, was 21 of 47 passing for 221 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
“It was kind of hard for us,” Davis said. “The defenses in this game are well ahead because they don’t have to prepare for anything. On offense, you have to fix protections. That’s what hurt us the most.”
Rose was one of four Ohio State signees in the game. The other three were on the South side with offensive lineman Connor Smith and linebacker Tyler Moeller of Cincinnati Colerain and tight end Jake Ballard of Springboro. Moeller had four tackles for the South.
Each team struggled offensively in the first quarter. The North side broke the scoreless tie when the South failed to execute a shotgun snap to quarterback Davis. The ball skitted back toward the goal line and North defensive tackle Skylar Constant of Bedford recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 47 seconds left in the first quarter.
On the play, Rose moved inside to tackle over center Matt Evans of Dayton Chaminade-Julienne. Davis had no chance to field the high snap.
“I didn’t say anything there,” Rose said. “They were just moving me around from end to tackle. I guess it kind of scared him a little bit.”
The North widened its lead to 14-0 as Stanzi threw a flare pass to Alex Knipp of Amherst Steele. Knipp got loose down the right sideline and was gone for a 72-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 2:05 left in the first half.
The South rallied with a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown march. Davis completed 6 of 9 pass attempts on the drive. The North helped as well as they had a pass interference penalty negate an interception and also had a late hit penalty after a pass by Davis. Davis capped it with his 5-yard touchdown lob Josh Chichester, a receiver from West Chester Lakota West headed to Louisville. The PAT kick was no good, but the South had trimmed the gap to 14-6 with 32.2 seconds left in the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, the North expanded its lead with a two-play, 49-yard scoring drive. The drive was capped by Stanzi’s 16-yard TD pass to Krauss that made it 20-6 with 10:32 left in the game.
The South answered with a five-play, 71-yard scoring march. Davis capped it with a 29-yard pass to Robinson, cutting the lead to 20-13 with 8:21 left.
But North wide receiver Daven Jones of Cleveland Glenville ripped off a 53-yard run on a reverse, setting up Stanzi’s 22-yard TD pass to Krauss that put the North up 27-13 with 6:07 left.
“All week in practice, Marc showed he could catch the ball,” Stanzi said. “He ran great routes and got open.”
Finally, after a South fumble, the North tacked on the game’s last score as Rudy Kirbus, a quarterback from Cleveland St. Ignatius, hit Canton McKinley’s Joe Morgan with a 32-yard TD pass for a 34-13 lead with 5:10 left.
The North now leads the all-time series 36-22-3.