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Produced by Almaden Valley Rotary Club

South has its day on the big stage

Oak Grove's Johnson returns interception 60 yards for touchdown in 14-6 win over scrappy North
By Glenn Reeves

The 41st Charlie Wedemeyer high school football all-star game had something that made it different from all the previous games in the series.

No more small stage. The game was played at Levi's Stadium. And to hear the players tell it, they loved it, a prep football version of Field of Dreams.

"It was a great experience," said defensive back Tajhel Johnson of Oak Grove, who picked off a deflected pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to help the South to a 14-6 victory. "I couldn't have asked for anything better."

The game pitted many of the top just-graduated high school football players from Santa Clara County.

Aaron Tillak of Piedmont Hills was a key player for the North, playing both wide receiver and quarterback. His 19-yard catch for a touchdown on a pass from Dominic Sabel got the North on the scoreboard with 8:53 left.

"It was pretty amazing, kind of surreal going into one of the newest, most expensive stadiums," Tillak said. "Everybody who plays dreams of playing in the NFL. But being realistic, we're probably not going to play in the NFL. I'd been watching others playing here. Playing here today, it was like I'm finally getting my shot at it."

There was an estimated crowd of around 8,000 on hand, leaving some six or seven times as many seats unoccupied at the mammoth stadium. But none of the players liked the idea of moving future games to a smaller venue.

"To me, this game is about the kids," South coach Eric Perry of Pioneer said. "These kids were so excited to play in Levi's Stadium. Win or lose, these kids will always remember playing in Levi's Stadium."

After a scoreless first quarter, the South broke through on a 9-yard run by Branham quarterback Luke Morin.

The sequence began with the North punting from the end zone as the first quarter came to an end. Quinn Spiteri of Los Gatos broke through to block the punt and Jamie, Bragg of Westmont recovered in the end zone for an apparent touch¬down. But the play was nullified as the South was called for illegal participation.

After the North punted again, the South took over at midfield. Los Gatos quarterback Dru Brown picked up a first down on a 10-yard run. He threw a 9-yard completion for a first down and an 8-yarder to Kevin Cance for a first down at the 9.

"It was really fun playing with guys I spent four years playing against," Brown said.

And As far a playing the game where the 49ers play?

"No words describe it," Brown said. "Going on the field was surreal, like I really wasn't there."

Perry brought in Morin with the ball at the 9 and called a quarterback run.

"I got my helmet on real quick," Morin said.

Later in the second quarter, the North started moving the ball behind the passing of Sabel. He connected with Tillak for 10 yards and with Devante Sanchez for 26 yards. But then Johnson came up with his interception return that went the distance and gave the South a two-touchdown lead.

"I was playing my zone and I saw the screen," Johnson said. "I came up, the ball tipped off (the receiver's) hands and went straight to me. I took it and just followed my blocks."

Pioneer's Zach Silva got most of the snaps at quarterback for the South in the second half and moved the team well with his running and passing. But the North stayed in the game by keeping the South from extending its lead.

"The defense played great," said North coach Jake Messina of Fremont. "Their quarterbacks played a little better, but we held those guys to (six) points. I'll take that any day of the week"

Inside linebacker Sam Kanongata'a of Fremont had two sacks for the North. Mitty's Nicolas McMurray had two sacks for the South. Oak Grove's Rushawn Jones, Santa Teresa's Corey Garcia and Sobrato's Ben Hagiperos also had sacks for the South.

"It was fun," Perry said. "This was a good group of kids. There were no selfish attitudes, egos were checked at the door."

South 14, North 6
North 0   0 0 6 — 6
South 0 14 0 0 — 14
S — Morin 9 run (Canoe kick)
S — Johnson 60 interception return (Canoe kick)
N — Tillak 19 pass from Sabel (kick failed)