WORCESTER, Mass. -- Late last fall after it was determined that representatives of the annual Shrine Chowder Bowl Classic committee could not join forces in trying to prolong the annual high school football event between senior players from Central and Western Mass., the National Football Foundation/Joseph R. Mewhiney Central Mass. Chapter step in to try and rectify the problem.
After several attempts to reach out to the Western Mass. Chowder Bowl committee proved to be unsuccessful, the Mewhiney Chapter decided to move forward in their proposal to develop a Central Mass. only all-star game.
Friday night, the event became reality, and by all accounts, a successful one at that.
More than 80 outgoing senior players from Central Mass. suited up in the first Joseph R. Mewhiney Chapter Central Mass. All-Star Classic held at Worcester State University's John F. Coughlin Field. Under perfect weather conditions, a capacity crowd watch the North stars fend off a resurgent South squad to prevail 17-14.
"Everybody behind the scenes who made this game happen, all were unbelievable," said North and St. Peter-Marian head coach Tom Henrickson, who was a key factor in forming the idea for this event. "All of those people are just second to none."
Make no mistake about it. Once the Central Mass. Chapter learned there would be no Chowder Bowl this year, they immediately sprung into action to start this new event. As it appears now, the Chowder Bowl will continue to remain in hiatus due to the success of the Central Mass. game in which proceeds raised will go to the Joseph R. Mewhiney Scholarship Fund.
As for the game itself, it was everything fans and Chapter administrators were hoping for, with a battle down to the wire.
After building a 17-0 halftime lead, North found itself desperately trying to stave off a strong second half rally put forth by the South. After slicing the deficit to 3 points midway through the fourth quarter, the South squandered two late opportunities to take the lead after turning the ball over on its final two possessions thus allowing North to escape with the victory.
"It was definitely good to get that big lead because they came back in the second half to make things interesting," said Leominster QB/WR and UNH-bound Neil O'Connor, whose 23-yard swing pass to Dan Henrickson at 8:24 of the opening quarter gave North a 7-0 lead. "We knew this was a charity event so we all just wanted to have fun out there. It's a little different atmosphere than your usual high school football game where there is a lot more emotion. It was good to come out here and have a good time knowing it is your last high school football game."
While the South offense for much of the opening half, North's continued to roll. On the first play of the second quarter, Hudson receiver Dan Mendes, on another swing pass, connected with Henrickson for a 32-yard scoring strike to extend the North lead to 14 points.
Henrickson, a St. Peter-Marian receiver, caught three balls for 82 yards. As a whole, North's offense finished with 160 yards while South amassed 211.
"We came out real hot to start this game," said Henrickson, who will play for Worcester State next fall. "But our offense was struggling throughout the second half so to come out hot from the start was a key to this game. This event was better than fantastic. I prefer it over the Shriners game because it allows more Central Mass. players the opportunity to play. It was fun playing against kids you've played against during the regular season and against kids you have never played against."
Following the North's second score, South finally started to instill a little consistency into its offense. Using a 15-play, 46-yard march, South appeared on the cusp of finally getting on the board. However, facing a fourth-and-17, an incomplete pass dismissed that notion.
As a result, North took over and drove 76 yards before Maynard's Preston Wilkey booted a 32-yard field goal as time expired in the half to send his team into the break ahead by 17 points.
"It was a great game," Tom Henrickson said. "South came out in the second half and made some nice adjustments. It was truly a game of halves. We won the first half and they won the second. Fortunately we held on long enough to win."
Midway through the third, South, once again, started finding gaps within North's defensive front. Behind the stellar running of Bartlett's Alex Givens-Perry (68 yards on 13 carries), South was finally able to erase the goose egg on the scoreboard. Driving 39 yards, Perry capped it off with a 10-yard run into the end zone with just under a minute to go in the quarter.
With North's offense now virtually non-existent, South started to take advantage. Early in the fourth after Leicester kicker Shane Padeni missed on a 25-yard field goal attempt, South got the ball back moments later thanks to a John Savoie interception and ensuing 29 yard return setting up shop for his offense at the North 5-yard line. Needing just one play, Givens-Perry got the call again, banging his way over tacklers and across the goal line to make it 17-14 with 6:55 remaining.
"In the first half we came out flat," said Givens-Perry, who will attend Mt. Ida College. "But in the second half we really came out flying. If my line didn't open up the holes for me in the second half I wouldn't have been able to do anything. So give credit to our offensive line."
Unfortunately for South, that would be the last of the scoring in their comeback bid. A Givens-Perry fumble on their next possession was followed up minutes later by a Bobby Brisbois (Hudson) pick off of a Dan Orlando (Westborough) pass to seal the triumph and capping off a successful evening for all involved.
"All of the kids on both sides were great," said North assistant coach and Maynard head coach Harold Ogilvie said. "With this whole process I'm already excited to start it up again next year."