Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Fourteen football players from Madera-area schools played in their last high school football game Saturday night in the 34th annual North/South Rotary All-Star Football game in Merced. Front row, from left, are Steven Alaniz (Madera South), Francisco Rojas (Liberty), Nick Hayes (Liberty), Dallas Hansen (Madera South), Angel Lugo (Liberty) and John Cook (Madera). Back row, from left, are Luciano Manzo (Chowchilla), Cole Crawford (Chowchilla), Cody Woolsey (Chowchilla), Tommy Molina (Madera), J.J. Espinoza (Madera), Juan Lopez (Chowchilla) and Colt Nelson (Madera). Not pictured is Colton Cardoza (Liberty) who injured his ankle in last week’s City/County football game.
MERCED — Defensive plays, long touchdowns and strong interior line play were some of the main ingredients in the South’s 23-5 win over the North team at Golden Valley High School in Merced.
Madera, Madera South, Chowchilla and Liberty had 14 players in the last high school game of their careers representing the South squad at the 34th Annual Rotary North/South All-Star Football game on Saturday between players from the Sac-Joaquin Section (North) and the Central Section (South)
From Chowchilla: Cole Crawford, Cody Woolsey, Luciano Manzo and Juan Lopez were chosen. Liberty had Nick Hayes, Angel Lugo, Francisco Lopez and Colton Cardoza who didn’t play because of injury.
From the Madera schools: Dallas Hansen and Steven Alaniz made the cut from Madera South, while Tommy Molina, Colt Nelson, J.J. Espinoza and John Cook made the team from Madera.
Just like last weeks City/County All-Star game, Madera’s Nelson got the party started.
Nelson entered the game after Clovis’ Jake Sanders and had an instant impact. Nelson completed a couple of passes despite the heavy rush by the North team.
Luckily, he was well protected by Molina, Rojas, Hayes and Lugo. The four were rock solid all evening, not only run blocking for Clovis East’s Ryan Hunt, but for Nelson who had two touchdowns on the night.
After a scoreless first quarter, Nelson proved history repeats itself after a game-opening touchdown to Central’s Milton Clements. Clements scored an 80-yard touchdown last week from a dump off from Nelson.
This time, Clements went 33 yards for the score.
“So, I came out of the huddle looking for any matchups I could take. I saw that there was a linebacker lined up over Milton and I instantly knew that I was going to him. I dropped back, saw what I expected and let it fly,” Nelson said. “I had a great game and I got to give it to my teammates. They are some great athletes and outstanding people to be around. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Nelson followed up his touchdown with a second late in the second quarter after he hooked up with his teammate, Espinoza.
Espinoza is known for his speed and agility and, in his last show for the Madera Coyote faithful, he starred in the play of the night.
He caught a short screen from Nelson as he was bunched to the right of the field with two other receivers. Espinoza came off the line of scrimmage and caught the dart from Nelson, before picking up a block and dancing through the heart of the North defense.
The crowd was in awe as Espinoza maneuvered around six defenders, including two broken tackles to find a breakaway lane down the North sideline. He turned up to another gear and outran the last defender for a 72-yard touchdown.
South took a 13-2 lead; North had scored after sacking Nelson in the endzone for a safety. The South went on and outscored the North 10-3 in the second half. Strong defense by Cook, who was a constant threat on interior line helped create a wall that the North couldn’t pass.
Chowchilla’s Woolsey also contributed as he was responsible for many of the North’s speedsters on the outside. His ability to cover and make a tackle were key to keeping them out of the endzone.
The South combined its defense and ability to control the clock on the ground to help beat the North. Hansen helped carry the load as both a ball carrier and a blocker. His size and strength helped pound away at the North interior line.
Alaniz came up clutch with a first-down catch, as he high pointed the ball and came down with it despite a defender draped all over him.
Nelson’s two touchdowns were enough to take the win and on his last night as a Coyote, there was no better way to finish.
“I was glad I could end my high school career off with a bang,” he said. “The past four years as a Coyote have been a great experience and have taught me so many life lessons. I have also made many lifelong friendships. Also, being able to play alongside JJ, Tommy and John for the last time was awesome. I love those guys and it was awesome being able to represent Madera together with a win.”
The offensive playmakers were getting the plaudits, but the men in the trenches were doing their jobs all night.
Rojas played his last game as a Liberty Hawk and it was great experience for him to share with his teammates and former Hawks.
“The game was a great experience because the whole week during practice I was excited to see what we could do as a team because we were all All-Stars,” Rojas said. “It was bittersweet playing in my last game as a Liberty Hawk, I’m going to miss repping the green and gold when I step on the field. I was also glad I got to see my coaches and teammates there to support me, Nick and Angel. It was fun beating the North since we were thought of as underdogs going into the game.”
His teammate on the offensive line, Lugo, agreed that the offensive line played well and helped keep their quarterbacks up, despite the safety in the first half. But overall, the atmosphere was special for the former Liberty Hawk.
“The O-line was pretty solid, smaller but solid. Like in any game people make mistakes but we made very few and protected our two quarterbacks well,” he said. “The game was definitely one for the books. The atmosphere was amazing, and the friendships built were like no other. Definitely a defensive battle but the offense did our job and put the points up.”