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07-02-2005, 09:06 AM
Thursday night's New Jersey North-South All-Star Classic at Rutgers Stadium.

By JERRY CARINO
Staff Writer
PISCATAWAY -- For three years, Jimmy Muench made big play after big play for the New Providence High School football team.

So it was fitting Muench turned in one last big play -- on his final play -- to secure victory for the North team in Thursday's 27th Annual North-South All-Star Classic.

With the South team driving for the go-ahead score, Muench recovered a fumble by Asbury Park quarterback Keith Gladden with 59 seconds left in the fourth quarter to help the North hold on for a 9-7 win before about 3,000 spectators at Rutgers Stadium.

The South leads the overall series 13-11-2.

"To end your high school career with a fumble recovery in a game like this, where you have so many good athletes playing around you, that's great," Muench said.

"Coming into this game I just wanted to make sure I didn't screw up. I didn't want o look like an idiot and make the team look bad."

Turns out the 5-foot-11, 220-pound defensive lineman saved the day. Gladden was slicing through the tired North defense. On a first-and-10 scramble from the North's 31-yard line, Muench held Gladden up just long enough for Delbarton linebacker Chet Palavecchio to come in and jar the ball loose.

"That quarterback was doing great scrambling all day, so I was just trying to keep him inside. I thought he was going to break away from me," Muench said. "Our middle linebacker came up and just gave him a pop. The ball pretty much rolled right in front of me. I knew at that point I had to grab it and hold onto it and we had the game."

That was the exclamation point on a superb day for the North defense, which recorded seven sacks while forcing three turnovers and 10 punts. Muench recorded one of those sacks, throwing Gateway quarterback Mike Flacco for a 14-yard loss on the first play of the third quarter.

"Everyone on the defense took a liking to each other," said Muench, who will play football for Muehlenberg (Pa.) in the fall. "Once we came into the game, the defense knew we were going to be the deciding factor. We knew we could control the pace of the game."

The South did have its moments, though, mostly thanks to the hard running of Bridgewater-Raritan tailback Xavier Walker. Walker finished with 29 yards on six carries, returned a kickoff 37 yards and scored the South's lone touchdown on a 7-yard pitch around left end. That put the South ahead 7-6 with 58 seconds left in the third quarter.

"I did what I did best -- I just took it," said Walker, who has a football scholarship at Troy University. "I was hoping to score two or three touchdowns, to tell you the truth, but I'll settle for one."

He was happy to get that one, though, after losing a fumble deep in North territory in the first half.

"I had to make up for the fumble," Walker said. "I started running harder because I knew I let my team down."

Two possessions after Walker's score, the North answered. Linden's Jimmy Moreno got them started by blocking a punt at midfield. It took 10 plays for the North to get in position for a field goal, and Lakeland's Tim Diamond put it through from 21 yards away to make it 9-7 with 10:34 left in the game.

Four other local players participated in the contest, and they all had their name called by the public address announcer at least once.

For the South team, Montgomery linebacker Nick Umar recorded six tackles and was in on two sacks, and North Plainfield linebacker Jason Stopper was in on five tackles -- four of them solos.

For the South, Plainfield defensive back James Williams led the team with eight tackles, and Scotch Plains-Fanwood defensive lineman Marc Fabiano had one tackle.

SOUTH 0 0 7 0--7

NORTH 6 0 0 3--9

N -- Greenberg 1 run (kick failed)

S -- Walker 7 run (Will Carney kick)

N -- FG Diamond 21

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: S--Gladden 14-43, Walker 6-29, MacQueen 1-13, Friedman 3-5, Murray 1-3, Riley 2-3, Flacco 11-(-31); N--Mercer 7-37, Caldwell 8-21, Harper 9-17, Greenberg 3-9, Wilson 1-(-1), Carlough 11-(-3), Esposito 6-(-15).

PASSING: S--Flacco 10-17-0-137, Gladden 6-10-1-57; N--Esposito 7-19-3-97, Carlough 9-15-0-83.

RECEIVING: S--Simmons 5-47, Murray 4-40, Plum 2-28, Gladden 2-9, MacQueen 1-42, Vidro 1-17, Friedman 1-11; N--Kritzer 5-67, Curry 3-16, Hathaway 2-35, Caldwell 2-21, Ponte 1-13, Wilson 1-13, Greenberg 1-10, Tejada 1-5.

from the Courier News website www.c-n.com