INDIANAPOLIS — Spencer Gilbert wasn’t a fan of the way his high school season ended at Eastern Hancock last November. Finishing Class A state runner-up at Lucas Oil Stadium, defeat left a sour taste.
On Friday night, he turned bitter into sweet at North Central High School during the 2014 Grange Insurance North-South All-Star Classic.
Gilbert finished his prep football career victorious as he and three other Hancock County gridiron standouts helped the South rule the night with a decisive 30-2 win against the North. The victory marked the South’s fourth consecutive and 27th overall in the series, which began in 1967.
“Losing at state was kind of sour, but winning this tops it off with a cherry,” Gilbert said. “We didn’t talk about the streak that much, but we knew we had a reputation to uphold. It was there in the back of our mind.”
After electing to receive to start the game, the South wasted little time showcasing its cohesiveness on offense.
Opening with a 10-play drive that stretched 65 yards and needed a little more than four minutes, quarterback Jake Purichia (Cardinal Ritter/University of Indianapolis) connected with Cress Kimbrough (Avon/undecided) for a 10-yard touchdown pass to put the South ahead 6-0. The pass was set up by South MVP Christian Perry (Southport/DuPage), who carried the ball seven times.
Purichia completed 7-of-11 passes for 85 yards as the South won the aerial margin 193-26 behind 14-of-23 passing. Perry gained a game-high 131 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown measuring two yards early in the fourth quarter.
On the ensuing drive of the first quarter, the South’s defense set the tone for the night.
On second-and-13 from the North 18, Ty Preston (Lafayette Central Catholic/Wabash) fired a pass to Nate Deno (McCutcheon/University of Indianapolis), which he juggled into the arms of Austin Leclere (Columbus East/Manchester) for the interception. Leclere returned the pick 32 yards for a touchdown to increase the South’s lead to 13-0 with 7:10 left in the first quarter.
From there, the South’s defense dominated the spotlight.
Gilbert – an All-State player at EH and a Ball State recruit – recorded four tackles, including three solos. New Palestine’s Blake Luker, a University of Indianapolis signee, played a majority of the game at defensive back for the South. Mt. Vernon’s Tristan Blanton, a Marian recruit, was a force on the South’s defensive line, racking up three tackles and one for a loss.
Greenfield-Central’s Jacob Mize, who will attend Walsh (Ohio) University in the fall, logged big minutes at center on an offensive front that helped net 193 passing and rushing yards, in addition to 20 first downs.
“We pitched a shutout minus the safety,” Gilbert said. “We practiced the whole week and everybody felt really comfortable on defense. We knew what we could do and came out here and got it done.”
The North was forced into four consecutive three-and-outs and were held without a first down until the third quarter. In six first-half possessions, the North punted four times and registered two interceptions.
The South pulled ahead 16-0 behind a 28-yard field goal from Brandon Dowers (Brownsburg/Marian) with 7:56 left in the second quarter.
However, the North’s defense ruined the South’s attempt at the series’ first shutout since 1996 when the North won 14-0 to tie the overall series at 15 each.
On second-and-10 from the South 5, Donavin O’Day (Fort Wayne Snider/Illinois State) tackled Tuwan Payton (New Albany/University of Indianapolis) for a safety with 1:46 left in the first half to cut the deficit 16-2.
An interception in the end zone by Tony Allen (Ben Davis/Saint Francis) on the North’s ensuing drive swung the momentum back to the South before the break.
“The defensive line is who shut them down,” Luker said. “We came out here and played fast, played hard and played physical. We did everything we wanted to do.”
In the first half, the North was limited to 19 yards in total offense and were 0-for-4 on third-down attempts.
The North’s first overall first down would come with 8:42 in the third quarter as Maurice Woodard (West Lafayette/Marian) broke free for a 12-yard run.
The North would muster six first downs by night’s end, but they could only compile 87 total yards of offense compared to the South’s 386. The North finished 0-of-9 on third down.
“They didn’t pull anything we didn’t expect,” Mize said. “It’s nice to have someone like (Perry), who glides out there and is quick.
“The defense was ready from the first snap of the ball. They were hungry all week. It was a team effort tonight. It was offense, defense and special teams. It was great.”
After Perry’s touchdown put the South up 23-2, quarterback Nick Ferrer (Westfield/Saint Francis) broke the game open with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Jaquan Keys (Perry Meridian/Indiana State). Ferrer finished 7-of-12 with 108 yards passing.
The South’s 30-2 victory was the third largest for the southern All-Stars. The South defeated the North by 32 points in 1972 (32-0) and by 31 points in 1997 (38-7).
The largest margin of victory still belongs to the North at 35 points in 1989 (41-6).
“I was just happy to here,” Mize said. “I cherished every moment and was picking everyone’s brains. This was a great experience.”
>North-South Grange Insurance All-Star Classic. Friday at North Central High School, Indianapolis.
South 30, North 2
SO 13 3 0 14 — 30
NO 0 2 0 0 — 2
SO — C. Kimbrough 10-yd pass from J. Purichia, (B. Dowers kick blocked).
SO — A. Leclere 32-yd interception return, (B. Dowers kick).
SO — B. Dowers 28-yd field goal.
NO — D. O’Day safety.
SO — C. Perry 2-yd run, (B. Dowers kick).
SO — J. Keys 50-yd pass from N. Ferrer, (B. Dowers kick).
First downs 20 6
Rushes-yards 52-193 23-61
Passing yards 193 26
Comp-Att-Int 14-23-0 6-20-2
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 7-115 3-14
Rushing: Perry 24-131, Payton 13-59, Sanders 9-6, Purichia 4-2, Ferrer 2-(-5) (SO); Mireles 6-24, Woodard 3-11, Carroll 6-9, Hooker 5-6, Oskam 1-8, Preston 2-3 (NO).
Passing: Purichia 7-11-85, Ferrer 7-12-108 (SO); Preston 4-12-29, Hooker 2-8-(-3) (NO).
Receiving: Kimbrough 4-42, Kinnaman 4-38, Keys 2-60, Wroblewski 2-26, Sanders 1-19, Gegner 1-8 (SO); Mireles 2-7, Bokun 1-12, Barrett 1-6, Deno 1-3, Carroll 1-(-2) (NO).
Returns: Gilbert 1-20, Brookins 2-106, Allen 1-38, Leclere 1-32 (SO); Cook 1-2, Carroll 1-38, Morgan 2-29, Mireles 1-25 (NO).