South edges out North in tight Optimist Game

Locals help carry the load for both rosters
By: Nick Pecoraro
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A collection of Sacramento’s greatest prep football talent in 2018 convened Saturday for a thrilling edition of the Optimist All-Star Football Game at Hornet Stadium at Sacramento State.

And the game did not disappoint.

In the 61st annual Optimist game, it was a good day, in particular, to be a Capital Christian Cougar. Seniors Trey Jones and D’Marcus Ross each scored touchdowns and kicker Kenyon Bowyer drilled the go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter to lead the South to a 24-21 victory.

After the North team had won nine Optimist games in a row from 2004–12, the South has now won four of the last five.

Lincoln High senior quarterback Tommy Turner got the scoring going for the South team with a 21-yard scoring strike to Jones for a 7-0 South lead with 2:38 to go in the first quarter.

“It was nice to know that around the area I’m respected as a solid player and they all think I can come out here and prove myself. And I think I did today,” said Turner, who hooked up with Zebra teammate Harry Rounds on pass receptions one last time in a prep football game. “It was sweet. You think after your last high school game that that’s the last time ever throwing to those guys again. I got another chance. I’m real lucky.”

Ross caught the second touchdown pass of the game for the South from River Valley’s Dawson McPeak, an 80-yard play that put the South up 14-3 in the second quarter.

The North starting quarterback was All-Sierra Foothill League selection and Rocklin High senior Cade Wyant, who zipped a 17-yard pass to Jesuit’s Connor McIntee. Wyant hit Bear River’s Calder Kunde in the end zone for the ensuing two-point conversion to bring the North within three at 14-11 with under five minutes in the first half.

Two possessions later, McPeak found Folsom wideout Parker Clayton for an 18-yard scoring strike that extended the South lead to 21-11.

Del Oro kicker Ryan Whalley booted a 38-yard field goal with 7:32 remaining in the second quarter to get the North team on the board. The Golden Eagles’ senior nearly pushed through a 58-yarder at the end of the half. It was on line, but it was about a yard short, ending the first half with the South up 21-11.

The North got help from special teams and defense in the second half. After being forced to punt, the North jumped on a South fumble. Bear River’s Dylan Bergez-Scott’s recovery in North territory allowed Whalley to make good on his next field goal attempt from 45 yards to bring it back to a one-score game.

According to the Optimist record book, Whalley became the first kicker to convert on two field goals in the same game.

“It means the world,” said Whalley. “It’s the best team in all of Sac and they put all their faith in me. I was the only kicker on the team, so that felt good.”

On the ensuing South possession, Granite Bay’s Jacob Ellis stepped in front of Turner’s pass and returned it 41 yards for a North pick-six, knotting things up at 21 midway through the third.

“I just saw it and jumped it,” said Ellis, who lost his father Jeff to cancer last May. “It meant a lot to come out here and represent Granite Bay knowing that last year we didn’t have anyone come out and represent us. And just playing for my dad again and have one more game in high school for him to watch over me, so that was nice.”

Bowyer, whose 27-yard field goal was the difference against Placer in the Division III Sac-Joaquin Section championship game, nailed a 37-yarder to reclaim the South lead at 24-21 with 2:54 to play.

The North drove into South territory on the final drive and into Whalley range. But the 37-yard attempt that would have tied the game at 24 was blocked by Burbank’s Levelle Bailey, who bolted off the left edge and sealed the 24-21 victory for the South.

Mixing it up on the offensive and defensive lines were linemen and linebackers Trae Nix of Bear River, Colton Lieburn and Jordan Susbilla of Roseville, Wyatt Berry (Del Oro), Eric Bledsoe (Oakmont), Joe Young (Granite Bay), Tyree Jenkins (Woodcreek), Zac Welch, Gage King and Nate Addleman (Oak Ridge), and Tommy Nunez, Caleb Freeland, David Ruiz, Enrique Carillo, Dylan Jorge and Garrison Passmore of Folsom.

It was a unique opportunity for players to join forces with old rivals.

“It’s always cool to play with your cross-town rivals,” said Roseville’s Susbilla. “So, it was cool to play with (Woodcreek lineman Tyree) Jenkins and have him at nose guard and keeping the guys off of me… I’m a Roseville kid. It’s tough to get looked at. I’m glad I got looked at. It’s great to be with a great group of guys.”

Proceeds from the Optimist game will be donated to the local Shriners Hospital for Children, and some of the players got to visit hospital earlier this week.

“It was amazing,” said Whalley. “My sister went (to the Shriners hospital) when she was a little kid, so that was cool for my family. It was awesome to give back.”