HILLSBORO — Good times.
Brand new friendships.
And, to top it all off, a spirited, thrilling victory in a game between teams featuring many of the top players in the state.
In other words, a handful of local high school football stars got it all.
Carter Atkins and Jackson Barton, both 2019 Sherwood High School graduates, Tigard grads Isaia Porter and Malcolm Stockdale and Tualatin graduate Jett Searle helped power the South team to a 33-28 win over the North in the 72nd-annual Les Schwab Bowl, a high school football all-star game featuring many of the top graduating Class 6A and Class 5A players from around the state, played Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium.
"It was real good," Searle said during the South's postgame victory celebration. "We had a lot of fun with the team, got to meet some great new guys, make some lifelong friends and it was real good to come out tonight and get the win."
"This week was amazing," said Atkins, who was named the Lineman of the Game for the victorious South squad. "I've never had a better experience playing football. Coming into it, I was a little bit worried, with all of these all-stars, and the South and what kind of team we'd be. But, at the end of it, I've met so many people that I'm going to be friends with for life. And it would have been sad if I didn't do it. I'm so glad I did it. It was one of the best things I've ever done. It's amazing."
"It was awesome," said Barton, who played at defensive tackle for the South. "I met a lot of new people that I used to rival against for years. It was awesome, sitting down and talking with them and becoming good friends. It was an awesome experience."
"It was a really good experience," said Porter, who had a big game at defensive end. "I loved meeting all of the all-stars. It was really cool seeing some of the other players from the other schools. It was, overall, just a great experience."
With the victory, the South team knotted up the all-time series record at 34-34-4.
"There was a lot of smack talking all week, North and South, so I was so happy that we came out with the win," Barton said. "It was awesome."
"It was pretty important," said Searle, who started at safety for the South. "There's a big rivalry between the teams. The South team was down by one (in the series), so we were able to tie things up. We went out there and played our hearts out."
"It was so important," Atkins said. "During the week, there's a lot of stuff that we do, and the North, of course, were always talking. With them one up in the series, this was a big game, and we came in, and we knew we were going to light them up. We had that fire. We knew what we wanted to do, and all week our coaches were awesome. They taught us everything we needed to win the game, and we just went out there and executed. It was awesome."
With the exception of the five local players, the South team consisted mainly of players from the Class 5A level.
It was very special, coming in with basically a whole different group, mainly (Class) 5A," said Stockdale, who played at running back for the South. "Those guys can ball. I think a lot of people overlook that, but those guys are some ballers. The other team, with all the 6A squads, you mention the names, 'Lake O, West Linn, Central Catholic,' you automatically think, 'those are big dogs,' and they are, but you have to know, 5A can ball."
The South team, and Searle, got off to a fast start to the contest. A fired-up Searle had three tackles in the first 2 minutes and 21 seconds of the contest.
"I came out here, it's my last high school game ever, so I wanted to leave it all out on the field," Searle said. "I didn't want to have any regrets, I just wanted to come out and play."
Meanwhile, Barton and Atkins each had tackles for losses in the first quarter, while Porter put big pressure, while also delivering a big hit, to North quarterback Jackson Laurent, a Three Rivers League foe from Lake Oswego, helping the South take a 20-8 lead at the end of the opening period.
The North team, with Laurent throwing a 6-yard TD pass to Reynolds' Kehdon Fletcher late in the second quarter, trimmed the South lead to 20-15 at halftime.
But the South answered back early in the third quarter. Scappoose's Connor McNabb, running behind Porter, who was lined up as one of two fullbacks on the play, scored on a 1-yard dive with 12:27 left in the third quarter, upping the margin to 26-15.
Porter, Searle and Barton all had tackles later on in the period, helping the South take a 33-22 lead into the fourth quarter.
The North, getting another touchdown pass from Laurent to Fletcher on the first play of the final stanza, cut the margin to 33-28.
But the South wouldn't give up the lead the rest of the way — the local stars helped make sure of that.
The next time the North had the ball, Atkins sacked Laurent for an 8-yard loss on a third-and-10 play, forcing a punt. Then, with 5:50 remaining, Atkins helped run Laurent out of bounds for a 3-yard loss, helping set up another North punt.
The South, then taking over the ball at its own 35-yard line with 4:53 left to play. The South then looked to take some time off the clock, and the team did so behind the running of Stockdale.
Stockdale carried the ball five times for 30 yards on the ensuing South drive, including a 16-yard run, not only killing time off the clock, but helping move the ball all the way down to the North 17-yard line.
"It was fun," Stockdale said of his role on that drive. "I was just happy I could contribute and be out there and play. It was a blessing."
The South ended up missing a 34-yard field goal attempt at the end of the drive, giving the North the ball, and one last chance, starting on its own 20-yard line with 33 seconds left in the game.
From there, three straight incomplete passes set up a huge fourth-and-10 play, with the game possibly on the line. On the fourth-down play, Atkins, Porter and Silverton's Ben Willis all put heavy pressure on Laurent, leading to a game-clinching gang sack for a 10-yard loss.
"We saw them line up, and we knew that they had to try to go to the end zone, so we all just came off the edge and our D-line just executed," Atkins said of the final defensive play. "It was spectacular. I knew, when we came in, that we had him, and the game was over."
"I figured that they were going to pass it," Porter said. "So I came out, full force, at them, did a quick move and got to him. It was awesome to have that experience on the last play. I was really amped up, because I was looking for that one big play. I knew if I got that one big play, that I could be proud of myself. It was a great feeling."
One kneel-down later, the South was celebrating its victory.
"It was really important," Porter said of the win. "We came out, and we figured that we were going to play for each other, and that's exactly what we did tonight. It was a big family atmosphere from everybody. We knew that even if the score wasn't in our favor, that we'd stay tight-knit."
Atkins, for the game, was credited with six total tackles, including two tackles for losses, as he was tabbed the South's Lineman of the Game.
"I'm so honored," Atkins said of the award. "Coming in here, and meeting all of these guys, especially my teammates, there's so much talent, and so much skill, to be awarded that was just so humbling for me. I try to work on my craft and try and learn from these guys. I put it all in, and I thought it was awesome."
Searle had eight total tackles, the second most for anyone in the contest, including one tackle for a loss. Barton and Porter each had three total tackles. Stockdale ran the ball 10 times for 32 yards, in addition to having a pass receptions.
But, to listen to the local players, the game was about more than just the victory and statistics.
"This week was so much fun," Searle said. "Getting the chance to hang out with these guys and just really bond, and especially give back to the little kids, for the charities. This whole week was just really special."
"The best part of the week was connecting, and meeting everybody," Stockdale said. "Realizing that there are people from all over Oregon, and they can play. It was just nice to bond with everybody. On a scale from 1-10, I'd give this week a 10 — no, I'd give it a 20."
"I made a lot of new friends," Porter said. "My friend Jahi Richardson (from South Eugene) will be going to Southern Oregon next year, so he's going to be a big asset to SOU, and it was just cool meeting all of these guys."
Porter also carried on a family legacy, as his older brother James Porter, representing Tualatin, played in the 2014 Les Schwab Bowl.
"My brother also played in this game, and he did pretty well," Isaia Porter said. "It's cool to be back here, and know that he went through this, too. I've always followed my brother's footsteps. He's been a role model for me, and I feel like I have to put it all out for my family. It's cool that I got to experience that."
Porter and Barton will both move on to play college football at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.
"I met six, or seven of my new teammates," Barton said. "Three of our D-linemen are going to Southern Oregon, so it was awesome."
Atkins will play at Pacific University in Forest Grove. Stockdale will play at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Calif. Searle will attend Oregon State University and plans to walk on with the Beavers.
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