College stars excite in East-West Shrine game

BY foxsports • January 21, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — There are no overtimes in the East-West Shrine Game, a contest that gives some of the best college players in the nation one last chance to impress potential NFL employers.

So it was no surprise that University of Colorado quarterback Tyler Hanson felt a keen sense of urgency as he maneuvered his squad down the field in the final minutes, with the score knotted at 17-all.
    
Hanson had already given the West squad its first lead of the game with a three-yard keeper for a touchdown and 14-10 edge in the second quarter. And he finished his college career Saturday at Tropicana Field by engineering the winning scoring drive before a crowd of roughly 22,000. It was capped by a nine-yard touchdown scamper by Louisiana Tech tailback Lennon Creer with 47 seconds left for a 24-17 victory — snapping the East's three-year winning streak.
    
"It feels good," Hanson said. "We put in the work all week. You're not just playing football — you want to win the game eventually. You've got the practices and the trip to the (Shriner's) Hospital. But we wanted to do something on that last drive and put it together."
    
Western Kentucky tailback Bobby Rainey set up the touchdown by busting loose for a 16-yard run to the East squad's 14 with 1:04 remaining. And moments later, Creer did the honors with a run that earned him the game's MVP Award.
     
"It was big, but it was on the 0-line — they opened up a big hole," he said. "Hopefully I got a chance to get myself out there and show what I can do."
    
The honor meant even more to Creer, Louisiana Tech's leading rusher, because he missed the Poinsettia Bowl against TCU due to an ankle injury.
    
"It was good to get back here on the field again and compete," said Creer, who finished with 80 yards on 15 carries. "To score the winning touchdown was amazing and just a blessing."
    
West head coach Brad Childress, former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, took his share of chances during the game, including going for it several times on fourth down. But his biggest gamble came in the second quarter following a 1-yard touchdown run by his quarterback, Chandler Harnish of Northern Illinois University, to cut the deficit to 10-7 with 10:03 left in the half.
     
Childress opted to go for an on-side kick by Greg Zerlein of Missouri Western State. The West recovered and that set in motion Hansen's 49-yard scoring drive — highlighted by a 25-yard pass to North Carolina State tight end George Bryan and a nine-yard toss to Arkansas wideout Jarious Wright.
    
"You know what, the kids aren't coming in here to tie, and you can tie in this game," he said. "You can't go to overtime. It's fun to be aggressive. It sends a good message. I thought our guys did a good job with that."
     
Childress, like the players on both sides Saturday, was also hoping to make a good impression. He's under consideration for the head coaching job of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, having recently interviewed for the job. Whether his aggressive approach and winning performance will make a difference is anybody's guess; Childress was simply pleased with the overall effort of his players, especially quarterbacks Harnish and Hanson.
    
"Both those kids had a nice presence about them," he said. "And for a week's work, they're the guys who are having to parcel out the information. They did a nice job of that. I don't think we had a procedural penalty. I think we got them in and out of the huddle very well."
    
The East squad, coached by Bobby Ross, started off strong with a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, fueled by University of Georgia placekicker Blair Walsh's 28-yard field goal and a 17-yard touchdown strike from Tennessee quarterback B.J. Coleman to Michigan State wideout B.J. Cunningham. But in the end, MVP honors went to Penn State linebacker Nick Sukay.
     
With some seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Sukay made a leaping interception in the end zone to give the East possession with a chance to break the tie. But the offense went nowhere and Hanson took over to lead the West to victory.
    
For Sukay, the MVP nod was especially meaningful given the news Saturday that his embattled former head coach, Joe Paterno, had fallen gravely ill.
     
"Obviously, he's a living legend," Sukay said. "We all are family clear back into the '50s and '60s. Words can't describe what a great honor it is to play for a coach like that. The passion and knowledge he has for the game is something you can't describe."
    
What might Paterno have said to Sukay following the potential game-changing pick?
    
"He would have given me a little pat on the back probably, but that's about it," Sukay said. "He would expect you to make that play."
     
Making plays — and turning NFL heads — was the name of the game Saturday and throughout the week of East-West practices.
     
Now comes the hardest one: the waiting game.


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