WALTHAM — For star players from the lower MIAA football divisions, the 41st annual Shriners Football Classic represented an opportunity to prove they can compete against any level of competition.
Canton linebacker Brendan Albert and Mashpee’s all-around dynamo Devaun Ford led the South all-stars to a 21-8 victory over the North on Friday night at Bentley University, respectively earning defensive and offensive MVP honors.
All proceeds benefitted the Shriners Hospital for Children, where patients and parents bear no financial responsibility.
Albert, who helped Canton reach the Division 5 South final this past fall, took some time to adjust to the speed of play in a game featuring the best graduating seniors from throughout Eastern Massachusetts.
“It was shocking at first. They were fast, faster than I’ve ever seen, and I wasn’t used to that intensity on the field,” said Albert. “They were definitely some of the best kids I’ve played against in my life. It feels good to get this award knowing it was against the best.”
Albert forced a fumble in the third quarter, came up with a pivotal sack to prevent North from tying the game midway through the fourth quarter, and sealed the win by stripping Georgetown’s Hunter Lane and running 83 yards for a touchdown in the final seconds.
Defense ruled the day initially, as both teams went scoreless into the break. But when Franklin’s Nick Gordon threw up a desperate pass on third down, Ford (4 receptions, 74 yards, TD) was able to snare the ball and run 36 yards to open the scoring.
With the North Andover trio of quarterback Jake McElroy, running back Darren Watson, and wide receiver Gabriel DeSouza leading the way, North responded immediately.
McElroy, the Globe’s Male Athlete of the Year, finished 8 of 13 passing for 151 yards and a touchdown to Reading’s Pat Conroy which tied the contest late in the third quarter. He earned offensive MVP honors for the North just three days after helping lead North Andover to a Division 1A Super 8 baseball title.
After Milton’s Luke McMenamin found Franklin’s Ryan Driscoll for a 27-yard touchdown to put South up 14-8, McElroy led North down to the 7-yard line. But Albert came through untouched and sacked McElroy to end the threat.
“It was a great week, and a really fun time out here tonight,” said McElroy. “[Watson and DeSouza] make me look a lot better than I am. They’re the premier athletes in the state and they showed it tonight.”