CORONA – It was all about defense and middle linebacker Bryce Smith from Vista Murrieta High School was named the game’s MVP in the 28th Annual Inland Empire All-Star Classic Football Game between Riverside County All-Stars and San Bernardino County All-Stars. Riverside County won the contest 30-2. The cold thirty-degree temperatures could not cool off the hot Riverside team.
Smith was credited with three punt blocks in the first quarter. “We knew that special teams – punt-blocking, in particular – could make a difference in the game, said Smith, “so we decided to go for it.” His first block came at the 5:54 mark on a 4th-and-six at the 24-yard line when four teammates poured through the line and converged on the punter. Marvin Hifo (Heritage) recovered and carried it to the four-yard line. Jakob Certeza (Great Oak), the Southwestern League’s #2 rusher, scored on his second carry for the first score of the game. “I did everything I could to get into the end zone one last time,” said Certeza. He played outside linebacker most of the game and on special teams.
Following the kick-off, San Bernardino gained a first down on a pass interference call and then faced a 4th-and-nine from the 35-yard line. Smith blocked the punt and La Sierra linebacker, Acquarey Eddington, returned it to the 8-yd line. A Riverside fumble at the four-yard line on third down led to a mad scramble for the ball which San Bernardino recovered at the 17 yd line.
Four plays later San Bernardino was punting from their own 15 yd line, when Smith blocked his third punt with 1:09 left in the first quarter. On the play, a San Bernardino player kicked the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety and Riverside County led 9-0.
On the first play of the second quarter, Great Oak Garrett Ackerman’s punt was blocked by San Bernardino. Four plays later, Jonathan Gonzales’ (Apple Valley) 47-yd field goal attempt was wide right, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave San Bernardino a first down at the Riverside fifteen-yard line.
The aggressive Riverside defense forced them back to the 48-yd line for a 3rd-and-43. Murrieta Valley safety, the Southwestern League’s Defensive MVP and Oregon State-commit, Terin Solomon, knocked down a deep post pass to one of the area’s best receivers, DeAndre Williams (Serrano), to force a punt. The punt was downed at the ½-yard line.
With 99 ½ yards to go, QB Michael Darr III (Santiago), rolled out to pass from the end zone two plays in a row. On the second play, he hit the area’s career receptions leader, Mesa Murrieta’s Khalil Sharpe for an 85-yard catch and run down the right sideline, the longest play of the game. “I was just running a six-yard hitch,” says Sharpe, “the DB read it perfectly and drove on the ball, but he tipped it. I just stayed focused, made the catch behind him and ran as fast as I could. But it’s been four weeks since we last played and I got tired and got caught from behind.” Riverside scored three plays later on a QB keeper by Darr to increase their lead to 16-0 with 7:29 left in the first half.
In their only real drive of the game, eight plays and five first downs later, San Bernardino was knocking on the door at the Riverside 14-yd line, when Norco linebacker Troy Vanscourt recovered a fumble on a keeper by San Bernardino quarterback Jimmy Walker to end their hopes of scoring before halftime.
The third quarter saw Riverside’s Ackerman punt the ball 65 yards, but a running into the kicker penalty gave the Riverside offense new life for another four downs. An option reverse pass by Chris Stratton (Chaparral) to Citrus Hill wide receiver James Ooten fell incomplete. The San Bernardino defense forced two more punts in the quarter. The Riverside defense continued its tough play and also forced two punts. The second punt, with just seconds left on the clock, was blocked by Norco’s Justin Martin and Vanscourt; Hifo made his second punt block recovery, but ran this one twelve yards into the end zone for a touchdown and a 23-0 lead.
The Riverside defense kept up its steady diet of QB sacks and stuffing runners – including 4000-yd rusher Jacob Taylor and Summit’s Junior Davis and Dontel James – as well as defending sweeps, QB keepers and passes. Solomon denied another perfectly thrown deep pass to Upland’s star tight end, Anthony Romero. The defense held the potentially potent San Bernardino air and ground attacks to less than 100 total yards on the night.
Citrus Hill QB, Trevor Hodge, hit Kendell Moore (King) on a 34-yard coffin corner pass for Riverside’s final score of the night, 30-0. The catch was initially ruled out of bounds, but the call was reversed and later confirmed on the sideline by video. Moore had gotten a foot in bounds on the catch.
There was an exciting exchange halfway through the final period, when the ball changed hands three times in three plays. Chaparral defensive end Patrick Clifford recovered a fumble on a QB keeper. “I was in on the tackle when I saw the ball, my eyes got big and I scrambled over the pile of bodies to get to it,” said Clifford. Riverside then fumbled on a bad snap and San Bernardino recovered the ball at the 48-yd line. The 1st-and-ten pass was subsequently intercepted at the 24 by Corona’s Tramel Davis and Riverside got the ball back.
San Bernardino’s only score came at 5:12 on a Riverside punt from the end zone. The punter stepped on the end line when catching the long snap resulting in a safety, 30-2.
In the final two series of the game, Smith had three tackles and a pass defense to punctuate his claim for the game’s MVP award.
In addition to QB keepers by Hodge and Darr, running backs Allan Stubbs (Elsinore), David Solis (Paloma Valley), Dallas Deville (Perris), and Justin Harris (Chaparral) gained the bulk of Riverside’s yardage. “They were bigger on the line” said Riverside Head Coach Ryan Tukua (Chaparral), “but our kids played fast and hard! It’s exciting for these players to get one last game and for it to be a win.”
In the 28 years of sponsoring this game, The SPORT Foundation has awarded over $130,000 in scholarships. This year the Rose and Frank Wolsztyniak Memorial Scholarship, honoring a student scholar who has been able to overcome significant obstacles in order to succeed, was awarded to Gardenia Centenaro from Roosevelt High School. Gardenia carries a 3.4 GPA and will be attending Columbia University. The San Bernardino County recipient of the Inland Empire Football Classic Scholarship is Steven Best of Yucaipa High School with a 3.88 GPA; the Riverside County recipient is Avery Richardson from King High School with a 3.6 GPA. The SPORT Foundation also awards a Sports Medicine Scholarship; this year’s recipient is Barbara Nesbitt from Riverside Poly High. She has a 3.67 GPA and will be attending The Ohio State University.
Congratulation to all the Riverside and San Bernardino County All-Stars!