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North defense stymies South in 31st Rotary Football Game
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Alex McKeon of Turlock makes a block on a member from the South team during the first quarter of Fridays 29-7 victory at Veterans Stadium in Merced. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ / The Journal

Pitman, Turlock and Hilmar each had representatives in Friday's 31st annual North/South Rotary All-Star Football Classic in front of nearly 2,000 people at Veterans Stadium in Merced.

Both sides exchanged scores just before the first quarter ended but after that the North was able to dominate with the help of Turlock's Chris Silva, Ronald Sharlou and Pitman's Sinue Cortes by outscoring the South and completely controlling the game.

By the denouement, the North had solidified a 29-7 stomping that was backed by three forced turnovers in the first half alone, including an interception.

“Most fun thing was defense because we locked it down all game,” said Sharlou, who played the entire game from the defensive line position. “They didn't really have much success on offense all night except for one play. A great experience to be out here with these guys and play the great game.”

The North went up on the scoreboard first after Atwater's Frank Cocio connected with Merced's AJ Stewart on a 40-yard touchdown grab, after getting up in the air and beating out a defender for the snag with 11:24 left in the opening quarter.

The South retaliated and went on to score just once after Sanger quarterback Michael Castillo was able to lob a pass to Clovis' Coltin Velasquez in the corner of the end zone for an eight-yard score to pull the South even with 6:59 left in the first.

Turlock's Alex McKeon started at left tackle and played in every quarter for the North.

Hilmar's Alex Chavez was the lone Yellowjacket but managed to find himself out on the field in over 80 percent of the offensive plays, however, he was overshadowed by Stewart's monster performance after the Merced Bear grabbed three scores on 162 yards.

“It’s cool but different because at Hilmar I was one of the center pieces,” said Chavez who had no grabs but was thrown to three times. “So I got a lot more attention and it’s nice to be scoring often but it was also nice to step back and do your job blocking, so there is not as much pressure or need to score which was nice.”

Central Valley's Moses Chiorso set up the North offense at the South's 42-yard line with 8:34 left on the clock and on the ensuing play, Gustine's Brandon LaBry broke out for a 42-yard touchdown run.

The North defense recorded five sacks in the game, including three from Stone Ridge Christian's Mark Hooker. Hooker was second in the nation with 32 sacks for the 2015 fall season. Sharlou and Silva each finished with multiple tackles.

“Coaches were well prepared and we ran through almost all the different schemes and we had to counter for almost anything they threw at us,” said Sharlou. “We ran it all week and we were prepared and came out ready and executed.”

The North went on to put up 22 unanswered points to close out the game.

“It was just a fun time to come together for a game like this and have one last game under Friday night lights, so it was a great experience to team up with guys you don't normally play with,” said Cortes.

Cortes started at safety and played on special teams and was out on the field from start to finish and had multiple passes deflected and dropped an interception opportunity.

“I think it’s pretty awesome to be representing Pitman, I wish more guys were here but it is what it is,” said Cortes.

“The biggest thing is the camaraderie but the craziest thing is most of us never knew each other before this and in a matter of four days we came together and won a game,” Chavez added. “And we looked like a well-oiled machine. We were not just one finger; we were an entire fist together.”

The win is the third straight for the North, who now lead the all-time series at 16-15.