South roars to Lions football win

Zwahlen hits 35-yard FGas time expires for victory

ragostini@modbee.comJune 15, 2013 

— The only thing Downey High graduate Aaron Zwahlen didn't do for the football team last fall was placekick.

We found out he could placekick, too, Saturday night.

All he did was boot a 35-yard field goal as time expired, giving the South a 17-14 win over the North in a thoroughly entertaining 40th Lions All-Star Football Game.

It figured that Zwahlen, who will attend Hawaii after two years of mission work, would decide the game. His athleticism shined like a multi-colored beacon from start to finish in front of about 2,500 at Modesto Junior College Stadium.

There was no doubt that he was the best player of the field. He rushed and passed for touchdowns, accounted for every South point and passed for 286 yards (18 of 32 with an interception). For the biggest reason why the South won for the first time since 2009 and only the second time in a decade, see him.

"I had to take it home for the team and the family," said Zwahlen, preceded by two brothers and an uncle as Lions all-stars (his father Lynn was a state all-star before the beginning of the Lions game). "I was thinking about them the whole game."

All of Downey's games over the years came down to Zwahlen's right arm, so it was odd that this one was decided by his right foot. He punted for the Knights but never kicked as a senior.

All-star rules prohibit the rushing of placekicks. There are no overtimes in the Lions game (the North still leads the series 24-15-1). But Zwahlen prevented a second tie with a perfect swing of his leg from the left hashmark — his kick high and true — off the hold by Merced's David Keys.

"We had Aaron. They didn't," South coach Kevin Swartwood said. "What a pleasure to coach. He's that good. I wish we had more pass concepts for him, but we just didn't have enough time."

The North and South teams knelt together afterward as the awards were announced. Zwahlen, the obvious choice as the MVP, was joined by defense MVP Hondo Arpoika of Oakdale and North's MVP Zack Johnson of Kimball. The coaches also recognized their most inspirational players — the injured Daniel Lyle of Argonaut of the North and Arpoika of the South.

The North's two quarterbacks both were named Zack Johnson and they often alternated. But Kimball's Johnson rallied the North from a 14-0 second-half deficit on touchdown runs of 33 and 9 yards, the latter with 2:33 left. Anthony Cotta easily scampered into the end zone for the tying conversion.

Zwahlen's fumble with less than a minute left opened the door for a North victory, but the South regained possession at the North 41 yard line with 23 seconds to go after a screen pass was dropped on fourth down.

North coach Jason Weatherby deserved credit for not punting on the fourth down and settling for n all-star tie. That said, the South capitalized. Zwahlen found Matt Parker for a gain of 23 yards to set up the winning kick.

"After I fumbled the ball, I had to pay the defense back," Zwahlen said. "That was the only way to do it."

The game was close only because the South failed to take advantage of a dominant first half. The teams trotted into the halftime locker room in a scoreless tie despite the South's 287-16 edge in total yards and 9-2 in first downs. The North fought hard near the goal line, however, twice stopping the South at the 2.

That the South outgained the North 414-197 proved irrelevant. What was relevant was Zwahlen.

"It was on our fingertips. We just needed to grab it," he said. "To represent the South was a big deal. We broke the chain."

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter @modbeesports

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