It was a typical high school All-Star football game Saturday night in Fostoria, and Dale Irby was admittedly just having fun.
But when the East team blew a 24-6 second half lead in the 31st annual East-West Coaches All-Star Game, the Perkins senior saw his competitive nature kick into gear.
Just seven seconds after the West took a stunning 32-30 lead with 2:06 left in the game, Irby returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards — then sealed the game with an interception on the ensuing defensive series as the East pulled out a 36-32 win.
Irby also had a 34-yard touchdown run, and a pair of 22-yard touchdown catches to earn MVP honors, while the East also snapped a 12-year losing streak against the West.
“It was fun being out here again with my teammates and coaches, just really a great time,” Irby said. “It was a great win with the guys blocking really hard for me, but once we got down, I just really wanted to see us pull out the win. I'm a competitor, so every time I'm on the field, even for fun, I just want to help my team win games.”
On its second series of the game, the East took over with great field position at the West 34-yard line. On the very first play, Irby was off to the races for a touchdown run. Fremont St. Joseph's Bennett Weickert added the PAT to give the East a 7-0 lead with 9:58 left in the first quarter.
Connor Mapus had an interception at the East 14 to stop one West scoring threat with 3:07 left in the opening quarter. But after each team traded possessions, the East fumbled the ball away to the West, which took over at the East 25.
That led to a short scoring drive and a touchdown with 12:49 left in the second quarter, but the run for two points failed, leaving the East ahead 7-6. With under five minutes remaining in the half, the West drove inside the East 10, but turned it over on downs at the 8.
Late in the first half, with the East facing a fourth-and-11 at the West 20, Irby struck again. He hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Tiffin Columbian's Donovan Walker with just 55 seconds left in the second quarter, but the PAT failed, giving the East a 13-6 lead at the half.
In the third quarter, it took just 1:04 for the East to score on the opening possession of the second half. Walker threw a 58-yard TD pass to Norwalk's Garret MacFarland and the East added the two-point conversion for a 21-6 lead with 12:56 left. MacFarland hauled in a one-handed catch, then drew a huge reaction from the crowd as he stiff-armed a defender with about 20 yards to go.
After the game, MacFarland was awarded the Sportsmanship Award for the East.
“That was definitely the most impressive catch I've ever had,” MacFarland said of the touchdown. “I just ran a 5-yard out pattern, and I was able to snare it somehow, and turn it around up the field. From what I heard it was a pretty nasty stiff-arm.
“I do have to admit, it was a weird feeling catching a touchdown from a Columbian kid,” he added. “But there were no hard feelings with us, obviously. But this atmosphere was almost comparable to a Friday night. These guys put so much heart in this game, it honestly felt like a regular season game.”
A little more than a minute after the MacFarland touchdown grab, a snap went over the head of the West punter and went out of the back of the end zone for a 23-6 West lead. Then with 4:40 left in the third, Walker and Irby looked to possibly put the game away, as the two hooked up on a 22-yard touchdown pass to make it a 30-6 advantage.
But then the West came roaring back.
The West cut the margin to 30-12 with 3:13 left in the third, which is where the score stood entering the fourth quarter. A 41-yard touchdown pass by the West with 11:40 left brought the team within 30-20. The West scored again with 7:47 left on a 6-yard TD run, but the conversion failed, cutting the deficit to just 30-26.
After the East again couldn't get anything going offensively, the West took over with a chance to take the lead. Facing a fourth-and-3 at the East 38 with 4:08 left, the West converted. Five plays later, they pushed across a 2-yard TD run to take a 32-30 lead with just 2:09 left.
“We took the huge lead, but obviously they had great athletes over there too and came back and took the lead,” said Perkins coach Jason Ziegler, who was head coach of the East team. “We made some silly mistakes, but it's an All-Star game with only three practices and different quarterbacks and snap counts, those things happen.
“That hurt, but they overcame that,” he added. “I'm proud of the way they played, and I'm honored to coach those kids.”
However, after losing the 24-point lead, Irby came right back in a huge way with a 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The try for two points failed, but the East was back up 36-32 with 1:59 left.
Irby then wrapped up his huge night — and the win for the East — on defense. The West drove to the East 36 with 41 seconds left, but Irby came up with an interception to stop the scoring threat and seal the victory.
“It was funny because some of the kids said 'I've never seen anything like that' when talking about Dale,” Ziegler said. “And I kind of looked at Connor Mapus, and we just looked at each other like, 'We saw that every single week.' Dale is definitely a kid who makes plays. When the lights shine, he's there. It stinks it's the last game I got to coach him, but I'm excited to see him at my alma mater (Ashland University).”
Norwalk's Austin Scott, an interior lineman headed to national Div. III powerhouse Mount Union, talked about the experience.
“It was an awesome week, and I know I had a great time,” he said. “Playing for Coach Ziegler was awesome, he really connected well with all of us really well. I think after the game, all the players had a deeper respect for each other.”
Ziegler also reflected on his week as head coach.
“It was just a really special thing coaching those five Perkins kids again,” he said. “They all made plays. John Workman had a lot of big hits, he and Mapus both had an interception, and Kyle Lewis and Ozzie Hermes had some sacks. It was just a neat thing to go out there with kids you coached the last four years. It makes you feel like you had a little piece of that. All that hard work has paid off a little bit.
“But these other kids, they came ready to play,” Ziegler added. “And that's the great thing about it. That was a fantastic thing to get to see how well-prepared they were to play a football game seven or eight months after the season had ended.”