INDIANAPOLIS — It could not have ended any other way.
There was Mt. Vernon’s Andy Spears, leading with his voice and by example, his black and gold helmet smack in the middle of a pregame pump-up huddle. And there was Eastern Hancock’s Jake Hicks, pancaking defender after defender in a downhill rushing offense.
Friday night at North Central High School in the Grange Insurance/Indiana Football Coaches Association North-South All-Star Classic, the South handled the North 27-6 for its third straight victory in the series, which sent Hancock County’s two representatives home victorious in their final prep football game.
MV head coach Doug Armstrong and one of top lieutenants, Jim Leisure, were coaches on the South team.
Eight months had passed since their respective seasons’ ended, but both Spears and Hicks — in addition to their South teammates — were well-conditioned and well-prepared for Friday’s tussle.
“It felt real good, real good. It brought back memories of ‘Friday Night Lights,’” said Spears when asked about how it felt to be back on the gridiron after a long layoff. He then came to terms with his own high school football mortality. “It was bittersweet being the last time.”
For Hicks, the triumph validated the South’s grueling week of practice, which included three-a-days, five full-pad practices and five half-pad practices.
“(The North) had only one full-pad practice,” offered Hicks, who started at right tackle. “We worked and felt dead during the week and went, ‘They’re only practicing this much?’ We just worked harder and gave everything we had.”
The South outgained the North by 129 yards and the team’s five ball-carriers — often running in the paths cleared by Hicks — combined for 227 yards, nine more than the North’s total offensive ouput.
Spears started at right inside linebacker and also ran with the first-string special teams units that wound up blocking three kicks.
“It’s been fun. It’s been a journey,” Hicks said. “We’ve practiced hard all week, and we just wanted it more.”
The game was scoreless before the South started marching from its own 20 late in the first stanza. After a key conversion on third-and-9, the South kept the chains moving via its ground game, with bursts coming from tailback Alex Rodriguez, he of reigning 5A state champion Lawrence Central.
The South finally stalled on the North 38, and had a decision to make facing fourth-and-7. Armstrong, Leisure and Co. decided to go for broke, and the gamble paid off. Charlestown quarterback Aaron Daniel lofted a strike to Ritter’s Alex Parrett for a 38-yard touchdown.
The North responded in the second, scoring on a touchdown pass from Benton Central’s Brandon Rooze to Mishawaka Marian’s Michael Whitfield. However, the South blocked the extra point, and later added a field goal from Greenwood’s Griffin Oakes to hold a 10-6 advantage at half.
Following intermission, the South seized control late in the third quarter.
Daniel rumbled through the teeth of the North defense with just over three minutes remaining on a 9-yard quarterback keeper, increasing the margin to 17-6.
The North had a chance to creep back into the contest early in the fourth period, but the South blocked a 32-yard field goal attempt and turned the turnover into points, eventually netting a 23-yard field goal by Oakes.
Daniel put the finishing touches on what would be an MVP performance by scampering in from 10 yards out at the six minute, 39-second mark.
Now, Spears and Hicks turn their attention to college.
Spears, an All-Hoosier Heritage Conference selection and county co-player of the year in 2012, is off to Muncie to walk on at Ball State. He says he already has a good relationship with Cardinals’ defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Jay Bateman, along with head coach Pete Lembo.
“I chose them because they have a really good program. I think I can have some success there and move up the totem pole,” explained Spears, who is undecided on a major but wants to minor in Spanish. “It’s going to be some work but I’m ready for it.”
And for Hicks, an All-Mid Indiana Football Conference honoree last fall, he’s off to Olivet Nazarene, an NAIA school in northeastern Illinois.
As luck would have it, the Tigers’ new defensive coordinator is Mark Reddy, who spent five seasons at Eastern Hancock as an assistant and three as a head coach.
“Actually, he came right after I chose to go there. It was a nice thing to happen. It was coincidence,” said Hicks, who is leaning toward majoring in a field related to sports management or sports medicine. “It will be nice to have him there to fall back on. We’ve got a good relationship.”
Grange Insurance/IFCA North-South All-Star Classic
At North Central
South 27, North 6
North 0 6 0 0 — 6
South 7 3 7 10 — 27
SO — Partett, 38 yard pass from Daniel (Oakes kick), 2:26
NO — Whitfield, 20-yard pass from Rooze (kick failed), 10:18
SO — Oakes, 26-yard field goal, 6:54
SO — Daniel, 9-yard run (Oakes kick), 3:18
SO — Oakes, 23-yard field goal, 8:29
SO —Daniel, 10-yard run (Oakes kick), 6:39