BILLINGS — For Bigfork’s Cormac Benn, the fun is just getting started.
Benn, who will be a running back for the West squad in this coming week’s Montana East-West Shrine Game, scored four touchdowns and the North held off the South, 28-21, in the 32nd annual Big Sky Class B All-Star Football Game on Saturday at Lockwood Stadium.
Benn, who rushed nine times for 98 yards and caught three passes for 52 yards, was honored as the offensive MVP for the North. In earning an award, he joined older brother Connor Benn of Ronan, who was the defensive MVP for the North in 2014.
“I think that’s awesome,” Benn said of the matching his brother’s MVP performance on the field after the game as parents and fans greeted members of both teams.
Benn, listed as a 6-foot-1, 190-pound wide receiver and defensive back for the North team, scored on touchdown runs of two, six and 68 yards and also caught a 20-yard pass from Loden Idler of Glasgow.
He said his favorite play is the “Seminole,” which he said is a jet sweep.
“Because I scored on it and my blockers, the line, did an awesome job,” Benn said with a laugh of why he liked the play. “We really did well on our jet sweeps. That was a big part and they didn’t adjust.”
With its second straight victory in the contest, the North leads the series 17-15. The 2020 game wasn't played because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the North downed the South 41-34.
The South led 21-14 at halftime, but North coach Greg Misner of Fairfield said adjustments were made and the message to his players at the break was to “enjoy the moment and the process and keep playing for each other.”
The North grabbed the lead 22-21 lead with 1:48 remaining in the third quarter when Idler connected with Benn on a 20-yard touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion from Idler to Eureka’s Gunnar Smith.
On the second play of a fourth-quarter drive, Benn had a 68-yard run to extend the lead to 28-21 with 7:18 remaining.
The South started strong on the ensuing possession with Colstrip’s Rylin Burns running the ball two straight times, once for 24 yards and another for a pair of yards. The North then was whistled for being offside and penalized five yards. However, with 5:50 remaining in the game Missoula Loyola’s Tommy Albrecht came up with the interception to snuff out the drive.
Albrecht was honored as the North’s defensive MVP.
“I assumed he would run an out route and I held the spot,” Albrecht said. “It was a clutch feeling.”
The North would then run nine plays and punt with 2:45 left in the game, giving the South one more chance with the ball at its own 24-yard line.
Quarterback Trey Allen of Red Lodge found Tyler Kombol of Roundup for 46 yards on the first play and then Gabriel Delgatty of Manhattan for another 12 yards. However, Allen was then tackled on a scramble for a 12-yard loss and followed with an incompletion. On the next play, Allen found Kombol for 20 more yards. However, on fourth-and-two at the North 10, the South failed to convert, turning the ball over on downs with 26 seconds remaining.
All the hard work in practice paid off in the closing minutes, Albrecht said.
“Basically when we went out for preparations and for practices, we grinded and focused on learning our plays,” he said.
Albrecht said it was his final football game as he’ll be attending Montana State and taking business courses. Winning his final game and earning MVP honors is something he’ll remember “forever.”
“My main goal was to come out and have fun and ultimately get a win as a team,” he said.
For the South, the offensive MVP was Flint Smith of Whitehall and the defensive MVP was Burns.
Smith scored on a 29-yard pass from Allen, who found Delgatty for a two-point conversion as the South broke a 6-6 tie and claimed a 14-6 advantage with 7:25 left in the second quarter. On the play immediately before the touchdown Smith hauled in a 28-yard pass from Allen.
Smith finished with eight receptions for 142 yards. Allen was 10 of 17 passing with two interceptions for 227 yards.
Burns was also key offensively for the South with 15 carries for 89 yards. Kombol, who hooked up with Allen for a 26-yard score in the second quarter, had three receptions for 92 yards.
Each team scored on its first possession. After the North found the end zone in just four plays on its first drive when Benn ran in from two yards out at 10:28 of the first, the South responded.
Caden Holgate of Manhattan scored on a two-yard QB sneak on the South’s first touchdown to cap a 12-play drive and tie the game at 6-6 with 2:27 left in the opening stanza.
The South roster listed 24 players, while the North roster included 29 players. Dan Lacey of Whitehall, the South coach, said five of his players were injured, but he didn’t want to use that as an excuse.
“We were down to 19 kids at the end of the game and it was tough to spell guys,” he said. “They gave us everything they had. It came down to a fourth-down play … You can’t ask for more.
“Our kids were ready and played hard to the end. We were super proud.”
Conrad’s Carson Bitney was another top playmaker for the North, with two catches for 67 yards.
For the South, Allen recovered a North fumble at 9:07 of the second quarter.
The South's scholarship winner was Michael McHenry of Roundup. The scholarship winner for the North was Andrew Rasmussen of Harlem, who had an interception late in the second quarter.
Benn, who will play football and compete in track and field at Carroll College, will now make his way to Butte, where the West camp for the Shrine Game begins Sunday. The Shrine Game will be Saturday, June 19, at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium at 7 p.m.
“This week was super fun,” Benn said. “I turn around and have more practices for the Shrine. It will be a busy week.”