WILLIAMSVILLE — For the third straight year, the South has the kings of Western New York football.
The South team won its matchup with the North squad, 30-20, in the 44th annual Kensington Lions Club All-Star High School Football Classic on Wednesday at Williamsville South High School. Down by as many as 23 points in the second half, the North kept fighting until there was no time left on the scoreboard.
What may have been the undoing of the team was the inability to protect the football. In total, the North turned the ball over five times and was close to several other mishaps on the night. Former Wilson quarterback Steven Frerichs' fumbled snap on the opening offensive possession led to the South's first score of the game, before it jumped out to a 17-0 lead.
Trailing early, the offense saw a spark when former Grand Island QB Cam Sionko took over under center. He drove the team with big pass plays to Brendan Gawel (Starpoint) Joe Stewart (Kenmore West) and fellow former Starpoint wide receiver Matt Spina, before All-Western New York selection and Williamsville North grad Dylan Mann punched in the first score for the North, cutting the lead 17-7.
Things went South from there, literally and figuratively. A few mistakes on the North's end led to a 30-7 deficit late in the fourth quarter. The North had a tall mountain to climb but continued to fight valiantly.
Both QBs would throw touchdown tosses in the final quarter, cutting the lead down to 10 points with nearly four minutes left to play. The comeback attempt was to no avail and the North just ran out of time, turning the ball over on downs with just seconds left to play.
Head coach Al Cavagnaro shared how the kids knew what an honor it was to be playing in the game, despite it resulting in a losing effort. Their refusal to give up when things were bleak was really what impressed the Starpoint High School coach.
"I just enjoyed the fact they didn't quit. We kept making mistake after mistake," Cavagnaro said.
"Missing passes, throwing interceptions, catching balls inside the 10 (yard line) on a kick. But you know what, that's just guys that want to win and want to play. They're trying to make a play. I love them all and you know what, we could have rolled over at any point but we didn't do that. We just couldn't get a break and you've got to make a break, we just didn't make a break. But, these are great kids and I tell you what, for myself and my staff, it was great."
Newfane grad Jonah Wisniewski was named the North's offensive line Most Valuable Player, was humbled and surprised to receive the honor for his performance.
"It's pretty special to be named this considering all the talent out on the field tonight," Wisniewski said. "I wasn't expecting it, to be honest with you at all. So it's a very special moment."
Wisiniewski plans to extend his football career this fall, where he will be attending Hamilton College in Utica. He hopes to use the All-Star game as a tool to see where he stands prior to his first collegiate fall camp.
"Just kind of seeing where I am in the realm of players, how the talent stacks up (and) how well I can perform against that," he said. "And just take that, go from there and just build off it."
This year's game will also be remembered for the two memorial messages and an award ceremony that took place. Before the game, high school football media legend Dick Gallagher was honored with the "Dick Gallagher Legacy Award." The award will be given out annually to those who are making a concerted effort to provide contributions to high school athletics in the WNY area.
Also, the late Milt Dickerson and John Faller were honored at halftime after both legendary WNY sports figures passed away within the last few months. Dickerson was one of the co-founders of the Kensington Lions Club All-Star Classic, while Faller was the face of Sweet Home High School's football and lacrosse programs for nearly 30 years.