DURHAM – The question leading up to Saturday’s inaugural New Hampshire East-West High School All-Star Football Game was would the West defense be able to stop the East’s stable of star running backs.
All week, West coach Keith Jones and his players talked about the tall task they faced in trying to contain the East’s Jerickson Fedrick, Emmitt Smith and Kevin Davies. But as it turned out, the West had some pretty good all-stars on its defense.
The West scored 21 points off five turnovers, recorded a safety and held the East to just 64 yards rushing on the way to a 44-12 victory in the first New Hampshire all-star game at Cowell Stadium at the University of New Hampshire.
Junior Brown led the West by catching four passes for 87 yards and three touchdowns, including a 50-yard bomb from quarterback Codey Dalton right before halftime. Brown was named the Bo Dickson Most Valuable Player.
Defensively, John Bieren had three sacks, forced and recovered a fumble and got credit for a safety that put the West up 23-0 and led to another touchdown that made it a 30-point game late in the second quarter.
“Our kids came to play,” said Jones, who was as surprised by the outcome as anyone. “We were worried during the week that Emmitt (Smith) and Jerickson (Fedrick) were going to get behind us because we were so close to the line of scrimmage.
“If you back off and give them room, they were all over the place. We were trying to force them into the middle, make decisions quick and keep the bottled up as much as possible. It worked out in our favor.”
The West took advantage right from the start, as Smith lost a fumble on the East’s third play from scrimmage, giving the West a first down at the East 29. Eight plays later, Aaron Martin found Brown on a 9-yard touchdown pass to put the West up 7-0.
Jackson King gave the West a 14-0 lead later in the quarter when he stepped in front of a pass from the East’s Evan Bidgood and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.
“I read it off the snap and saw the receiver coming off to my side,” King said. “The quarterback let it go and I just jumped up and tried to make a play. I looked up and didn’t see very many people around, so I just headed for the pylon. It set the tone for us early and we coasted.”
Bieren’s fumble recovery near midfield led to a 2-yard touchdown run by Martin to make it 21-0 with 12:28 left in the first half.
“They kept on taking the ball away from us,” East coach Bill Raycraft said when asked how the West slowed down his offense. “Getting down 14-0 hurt, and at 21, we pressed more than we wanted to. We had to change what we wanted to do. They countered everything we tried to throw at them.”
The West was not without its own mistakes, as it twice fumbled the ball away near the goal line. One of those came on a miscue by Chris Anderson at the 1-yard line, but two plays later, the West defense made up for the turnover.
On second down, as Bidgood dropped back in his own end zone, the West’ Nolan Cornell came around the left side untouched. Cornell wrapped up Bidgood, but as the two were heading to the ground, Bidgood tried to throw the ball away. The pass was batted back by Bieren, who was rushing from the right, and landed in the arms of Bidgood, who was on the ground, for a safety.
“Bieren was unbelievable,” Jones said. “He controlled the edge like he’d been doing it for years.”
The West took the ensuing free kick and put tougher a 10-play, 59-yard drive that ended on another 9-yard touchdown pass from Martin to Brown to make it 30-0 with 1:39 left before halftime.
Fedrick finally put the East on the board, returning the kickoff 96-yards for a touchdown, but the West answered back two plays later on Dalton’s bomb to Brown.
“I want to make clear, everyone always says I’m a running coach, but I’d sling it with the best of them if I had those kids slinging it,” Jones said.
The teams traded touchdowns to open the second half, as the East’s Conor Donovan and the West’s Derek Paradis both had rushing scores.
“Any time you win the turnover battle and you make people pay, you’re looking good,” Jones said. “What an awesome event. This was easy to coach. It helps when you have those kids. They make you look good. They did a heck of a job for a great cause.”
The game benefited the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. The event raised over $300,000 for the hospital, including $50,000 that was raised by the players.