The Phil Simms North/South All-Star Game is New Jersey’s premier year-end showcase for some of the state’s best about to graduate.
Sunday night’s edition did not disappoint.
A few great plays and a few lucky rebounds made the difference, as the North side came away with a 21-16 victory over the South in front of a huge crowd at Kean University.
Raedon Oliver – East Orange’s Rutgers-bound quarterback – received well-deserved Offensive MVP honors for the North team, while Colgate’s Cole Kozlowski of Manasquan earned that accolade for the South.
Newark West Side’s Dashawn Lawton and Matawan’s David Onuaha — the latter the state’s top tackle last season — won defensive MVP awards for the North and South, respectively.
For Oliver, who led East Orange to its biggest hits in more than a decade last fall, it was a fitting end to a high school career.
“After going 5-2 in my junior year, I didn’t want to lose another game of football while I was in high school. We were lucky to go 13-0 and represent the city well. East Orange, and for a bit more I’m still in high school. I didn’t want to lose tonight,” Oliver said.
Late in the first half, the North began their comeback when Oliver found Seton Hall Prep standout Nick Dunneman for a score on a 10-yard angled pass on a 4th-and-3. ‘Essex cut the South’s lead to 10-6 at the break.
Oliver came out firing once again in the fourth quarter, connecting with Ramsey’s Matt Weir on a contraband play for a three-yard score to give the winners a 13-10 lead.
Verona quarterback Cael Zebrowski would find Dunneman on a 50-yard bomb to bring the North to the South 10-yard line on the next drive. Two plays later, Zebrowski found Parsippany Hills’ Dominick Verducci for a score on a screen pass, extending the lead to 21-10.
With 2:14 to go, Kozlowski was catching the last touchdown pass of his career, as he caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Shawnee’s Matt Welsey to cut the South’s deficit to 21-16 after a failed attempt at two points.
“I had a blast all weekend playing in this event. It was an honor to be selected just to play, let alone get MVP,” Kozlowski said. “I got to play some guys I had faced since Pop Warner’s prom, and obviously some great competition from the North. I wish things had gone as planned, but it was a great experience overall.
The South would have one more chance to take the lead, but Rahway’s Zaon Laney intercepted a pass to seal the North’s victory.
Robbinsville’s Sean Updegraff punched a 27-yard field goal to give the South a 3-0 after the first. They would extend their lead to 10-0 midway through the second, when Clayton’s Justin Pessoa scored on a 15-yard run.
Lawton – who will play ball for Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania next fall – and Morris Catholic’s Zach Thomas also recorded interceptions for the North in the first half.
For Simms, an active member of New Jersey’s high school football scene, the event was another big hit.
“I haven’t slept the last two nights not knowing what the weather would be like, but everything went well for us. I always have a great time this weekend every year,” Simms said. “I love watching high school football. I go to about 10 games a year and go all over the state and it never gets old.
The NJ High School Sports newsletter now appears in mailboxes 5 days a week. Sign up now and be among the first to get all the sports for boys and girls you care about, delivered straight to your inbox every weekday. To add your name, Click here.