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South back McNabb caps high school career with triumph in Les Schwab Tires Bowl

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Connor McNabb (left) closes in on one of his five tackles for the South, which prevailed 33-28 over the North to even the all-time series record at 34-34-4. HILLSBORO — To the all-star from Scappoose High, the tone was set early last week for what would be a delightfully satisfying sweep.

The main event was Saturday's annual Les Schwab Tires Bowl football game. And what happened there simply followed a trend established several days earlier.

"The highlight of the week was we didn't lose a single thing to the North," declared Connor McNabb, South team member, after he and his squad won on the gridiron 33-28 at Hillsboro Stadium.

Explaining that statement, McNabb noted that "we beat them in hot wings, in 2K, in Spikeball, volleyball, Black Ops, the list goes on. They can't beat us in anything."

McNabb was referring to the friendly, or perhaps in this case it should be in quote marks, i.e., "friendly" competition between the South and North during the week of practice leading up to the select high school football game.

McNabb, sticking the needle in a bit further, went back to volleyball as an example of the edge the South had on the North.

"You've got to have athletes to play volleyball. They were not good in volleyball, so we knew they didn't have that many athletes," he said after Saturday night's football clash.

McNabb and the South perhaps didn't mind rubbing it in a little because of talk both during the week and a game that was on the chippy side, and more feisty than the typical offseason or summer contest featuring the state's top big-school graduating seniors.

"They (the North) talked a lot of trash all week," McNabb said, "so we came in really amped up."

It looked that way on the field, for sure.

On the game's first play from scrimmage, South defensive back Trevor Antonson of Wilsonville picked off a pass from North quarterback Jackson Laurent (Lake Oswego) at the North 34-yard line.

Three plays later, the South was in the end zone on a 34-yard pass play from QB Nate Overholt (Wilsonville) to Eagle Point receiver Noah Page.

The score was just the start and was indicative of how the South would win this war.

Page went on to catch TD passes of 72 and 50 yards from QB DeMontre Thomas (Churchill), and the South would pile up 44 yards to 347 for the North

The North had its moments offensively, too, and kept things close, thanks in part to a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown by Grant High sprinter Marcus Harris.

That special-teams TD jaunt came early in the third quarter, but the South refused to fold every time the North seemed to be applying more pressure.

The North, trailing 33-28 in the final frame, had possession four times with a chance to take the lead, but the South kept the North on its side of its field every time.

"We led the entire way," McNabb could say proudly after the game.

Each team had about three dozen players, and the North was stocked with stars from Class 6A schools while the South had a higher number from 5A programs.

That difference in background and hometowns was one reason why the South felt like the designated underdog, McNabb said, and why the South at least got the feeling the North considered itself the superior squad.

"Oh, yeah, they definitely thought they'd come in and it wasn't going to be a game," McNabb said. "They had the stats and thought how good they were."

But the South now has won four of the past five meetings, and it seemed after the game like every player on the South knew one key stat: in 72 editions of this game, dating to its inception as the Shrine All-Star Game in 1948, the all-time series now stands dead even, with 34 wins for the North, 34 for the South and four ties (the event began as Metro vs. State).

McNabb said this year's South team bonded early as both teams hunkered down on the campus of Pacific University in Forest Grove the week of the game.

"We came together a lot," he said.

And McNabb said the way the teams approached their practice sessions had something to do with that.

"Honestly, the North was the first to say we didn't have very long practices. I don't think we had one practice that went two hours," McNabb said. "We only went in helmets and shoulder pads the first practice, then had a little bit of a walk through, then just had lids on for the second practice, while they went full the whole time.

"But we had a saying, 'Do it right, do it light. Do it wrong, do it long.' So we had short practices, and had a lot more time to come together as a team."

McNabb said one of his big contributions to the South came in the midweek hot wings eating contest at Buffalo Wild Wings. He said he got the better of North linebacker Jake Bushman, son of Clackamas High coach Joe Bushman, who was head coach of the North.

"I won my heat against him," McNabb said, noting that he doesn't even particularly care for hot wings.

"Nah," he said. "I've never had more than a medium before Wednesday."

Game time was 6 p.m. on a warm Saturday.

McNabb was one of four players chosen for a special honor — as a South captain who went out to the middle of the field for the coin toss.

"It felt really good" to be selected for that duty, he said, "because there were a lot of good guys, nice guys, on our team," he said.

Then it was time to play. It was McNabb's first football game since the final time he wore a Scappoose uniform — on Nov. 8, when the Indians finished their first year up from the 4A ranks, and finished the season 8-3, losing in the 5A quarterfinals at Pendleton after being ranked sixth through the regular season.

"I was definitely nervous," McNabb said of the opening kickoff last Saturday. "After that, it was mostly just football. I was in a zone. It was a good game."

McNabb, who made his all-district team on offense, defense and special teams, played on our four special teams for the South and got a fair amount of work on defense.

He finished with five tackles, one of the highest totals, lining up in what the South terminology called rover and bandit positions in the secondary.

He played only briefly on offense — but the time was well spent.

As a running back, McNabb had one touchdown per carry — scoring from the 1-yard line on his only rushing attempt.

The blast came with 12:27 remaining in the third quarter and gave the South a 26-15 lead. It was a fourth-and-1 play call, and it capped a five-play, 56-yard drive.

"It was really fun," McNabb said of getting into the end zone.

Doing so wasn't easy, even with two big blockers in front of him in a special "jumbo" formation.

In practice, the South had always run the play to the right. This time, they chose to go left.

"There was a bigger gap on the left," McNabb said.

Not much of a hole, though, and it took getting low, squirting through and pushing forward for him to cross the goal line.

"I got hit enough to where I dove to get in. I felt pretty confident, though," he said.

The only downer to the day and week was that McNabb hurt his neck early in the game.

"I got hit right away, and as the game went on, on defense it started hurting more after every tackle," he said. "That was a bummer. I didn't play much in the fourth quarter because I had a hard time just jogging on and off the field.

"It would have been nice to get a chance to play on those last couple drives."

All in all, though, it was a rewarding experience, on top of being a winning one.

"Our defensive backs made some good plays," McNabb said. "Trevor set the tone early with his pick, and Page did a really good job getting over the middle.

"I think we were more physical than they expected, and a lot more physically and fundamentally sound than I think they thought we'd be."

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