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Punts make the difference

By Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune, 06/26/11, 12:14AM CDT


Blaine's Eric Kline, North All-Stars put the boot to the South

North's Brandon Anderson of Sartell gave chase as South's Josh Vaughan of Bloomington Kennedy ran for a 49 yard gain at TCF Bank Stadium. Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Almost 100 of the top recently graduated prep football players took the field Saturday night for the Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game at TCF Bank Stadium, bent on one last high school hurrah before scattering to colleges across the Midwest.

The talent level on the field was enough, it was hoped, to offset the minimal preparation time. The teams – 45 players on each, representing the North and the South – had scant time to find out their teammates' names, much less learn an offensive system.

So it came as something of a surprise that the most important and game-changing aspect of the North's 17-7 victory over the South was ... punting.

The North took full advantage of two punts from Eric Kline that pinned the South deep in its own territory. The first one, early in the second quarter, stuck the South at its 1-yard line. After forcing the South to punt, the North took over at its 30-yard-line and scored the game's first touchdown three plays later on a 3-yard run by Brainerd running back Jordan Hayes.

"I tell you what," said Kline, the 2010 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year from Blaine. "I punted for our team this year, and I didn't punt so well. But it came together well in this game."

Kline's next punt, early in the second half, was downed by Wayzata's David Boegel at the South 12-yard line. Three plays later, South quarterback Billy Gregg's pass was picked off by North linebacker Eric Riley. Riley, from Morris, returned it 34 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

"That was a great feeling," said Riley, who was named the North's defensive MVP. "I'm the first player ever from Morris to play in this game, and to get that was awesome."

Gregg, who is used to playing in a wide-open offense at Hopkins, came right back on the South's ensuing drive and led the team 78 yards for its only score of the game. The touchdown was set up on a beautifully executed screen pass from Gregg to Josh Vaughan of Bloomington Kennedy. Two plays later Gregg found Winona's Ryan Woodard open at the goal line. The pass wasn't perfect, but Woodard made a leaping, twisting catch and landed in the end zone.

The North added one more score on a 20-yard field goal for Breck's Steven Keisel for the final margin of victory.

Saturday's game marked the first time the All-Star Game had been played on the University of Minnesota campus since 1975. The game also changed its format, going from Metro vs. Outstate to North vs. South.

No matter the circumstances, the game was all about bringing attention to Minnesota high school football.

"I was a little concerned, coming from a small town and playing with the kids from the big schools," Riley said. "I mean, I'm from a town of 5,000, and I'm playing with kids from Wayzata, where they have a graduating class of 900. It's crazy, but it was a blast."

Despite the loss, the South players were equally pleased to play in the Gophers' football cathedral.

"A 'W' would have been nice, but there is no way better to end your high school career," said Rosemount defensive lineman Brandt Berghuis. "Just an awesome experience."

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