West wins Grin Iron Classic football game
By Eric Wade
Daily Mail Sports Editor
SPRINGFIELD -- The 12th annual Grin Iron Classic kicked off Friday night at Parkview High School's JFK Stadium. The annual all-star football game pits 129 high school seniors from the east and west sides of the Missouri Ozarks against one another to raise money for the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile -- also known as the Tooth Truck -- and has helped more than 14,500 children with dental treatment and prevention education valued at more than $8.5 million, through 37,000 dental appointments.
"We just want to tell you that you are giving kids a smile every day and you are changing the way they feel about themselves through their teeth," Ronald McDonald House president and CEO Bonnie Keller said at halftime.
This year's Grin Iron Classic featured performances from the Glendale Crimson Girls and Joplin High School dance teams, as well as a $15,000 check presentation from the Greater Springfield Dental Society to the Tooth Truck at halftime and tours of the Tooth Truck, on top of what ultimately turned out to be the closest game in the event's history. This year's event featured three Nevada High School players -- Sam Ellifrits, Dalton Hendren and Nick Conner -- on the West squad that scored the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak by Webb City's John Roderique with just 50 seconds to play and won the game by a final score of 21-17.
Through the early portions of the contest, it looked as though the East would be able to run away and hide as it opened up an early 14-0 lead after the first two of what turned out to be five West turnovers -- four fumbles and an interception. The first of those two touchdowns came just 4 minutes, 9 seconds into the game when Camdenton's Chase Nugent returned a West fumble 74 yards to put his squad up, 7-0.
Less than 6 minutes later, the West coughed up the ball for the second time in the opening period, giving the East offense a short field with which to work. Just five plays later, the East opened up a two-touchdown advantage on a 31-yard touchdown catch by Parkview's Devin Miller with 11:53 left in the half.
Conner was on the offensive line just 1:51 later when Roderique threw his first touchdown pass of the night to Carthage's Jordan Dangerfield for 58 yards to make it 14-7.
Webb City's Phoenix Johnson got in on the action after the first East turnover of the night when he caught a 15-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14 with 4:02 left in the half. That was where the scoring ended, sending both squads into the locker room in a dead heat.
"This is absolutely amazing," Keller said at halftime of the night's events.
The West squad took the second half kickoff and looked as though it would finally be able to grab its first lead of the game until Parkview's Rudy Beltran intercepted a pass at the East 1-yard line for the third West turnover of the night. The two squads traded turnovers on the next two drives, setting up what ultimately proved to be an action-packed final 12 minutes.
The East took the lead for the second time on the night when Parkview's Sean Harrell kicked a 26-yard field goal with 10:04 left to put his squad up by three at 17-14. The West squad wasn't down for the count just yet, however.
A steady diet of running plays to the speedy Johnson helped Roderique and the West squad drive the ball inside the East 5 with a minute to go and on a fourth-down play at the goal line, Roderique went behind solid blocks from Ellifrits and Conner and took it upon himself to give the West the lead for the first time at 21-17, on a 1-yard run with just 50 seconds to play.
The East squad made a valiant effort to mount a last-second comeback, but simply ran out of time. After a pair of completions drove the East squad into West territory, a sack by Webb City's Jose Speer with 14 seconds left in the game sealed the 11th victory in 12 years by the West squad.
By the time all was said and done, Hendren didn't end up seeing as much action as he might have liked, but was still more than happy with the night as it came to a close.
"It was fun," Hendren said after the game. "That was cool."
Hendren finished the night with two carries for one yard. Johnson -- who carried the brunt of the load in the running game -- and Nixa's Christian Witt earned Most Valuable Player awards for the West squad, while Nugent and Camdenton's Murphy Ward got the two MVP nods for the East squad.