Sunday, January 23, 2011

East Beats West, 25-8, in 86th Annual Shriners' All-Star Game

After his team of East all stars had beaten their West counterparts 25-8 in the 86th annual East-West Shrine Game Saturday, winning coach Dan Reeves said a key factor in the game was “that we got the wind in the first quarter.”

The former Denver Broncos coaching legend might very well have said “we got the win in the first quarter,” because that's when the East put the game away for all intents and purposes.

Reeves' squad jumped out to a quick 16-0 lead built on three forced fumbles and then turned the game over to a stonewall defense led by MVP Martin Parker.

“It never even crossed my mind when I came down here to play that I'd be named defensive MVP,” said Parker, a 6-foot-2 defensive tackle from Richmond who had a pair of sacks and forced a fumble.

“All week long the coaches kept telling us that as defensive players, that we could go out there and change the game – and it came true. Everyone on the sideline just kept challenging each other to get more sacks, get more tackles and get more pressures and it paid great dividends in the end,” said Parker

Indeed, the East defense recovered three fumbles in all, picked off a pass and forced a safety, holding the West to a total of 126 yards from scrimmage, which included a miserly 14 yards in 23 rushing attempts.

The West offense was so thoroughly shackled in the game, Wade Philips' squad could convert only one first down in 11 third-down situations.

“Our defensive coaches really had those guys flying after the ball all during the game,” Reeves said.

Connecticut defensive end Greg Lloyd II led the East with five tackles and Florida captain Justin Trattou had four, including two tackles for a loss and a sack, one of six times an East defender would take down a West passer during the game.

East quarterbacks, on the other hand, managed to stay upright when they went back to pass and kept the chains moving both with their arms and their legs: Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor threw five times for 59 yards and picked up another 11 on three scrambles; Ricky Dobbs from Navy connected on five of his 10 passing attempts for a total of 51 yards and ran five times for 40 yards.

The afternoon began bright and sunny – but very windy, so much so that the parachutist scheduled to drop in on the field to deliver the game ball was a last-minute scratch.

The West offense couldn't get untracked early on, coughing up a couple of fumbles in the shadow of their own goal posts. The first one came on the first offensive play of the game when Brian Rolle stripped West running back Alex Green. The ball was recovered by Josh Thomas at the West 16 and on the East's first play from scrimmage, Syracuse tailback Delone Carter swept around right end untouched to the near pylon putting the East up 7-0. Carter led all rushers with 54 yards on 11 carries and earned Offensive MVP honors for his efforts.

The second miscue was forced by defensive end Kenny Rowe of Oregon who slammed quarterback Scott Tolzien to the turf at the five, jarring the ball loose. Rowe had a golden opportunity to follow up with the third part of the defensive trifecta – a touchdown – but the 6-foot-3 232-pounder couldn't find the handle on the ball as it bounced free in the West end zone, finally recovered by West offensive lineman Matthew O'Donnell, one of two players in the game representing teams in Canada. So instead of another quick seven, the East had to settle for two points on the safety – plus getting the ball on the ensuing free kick.

That quickly led to a four-yard touchdown run by Penn State tailback Evan Royster, slanting in off left tackle for the score that capped an 8-play, 47-yard drive for the East which now led 16-0 at the 4:23 mark of the first quarter.

“We probably had one of the worst starts I've ever seen in a ballgame,” Philips admitted after the game.

The West didn't fumble the ball on their next possession but a third-down sack by Penn State defensive tackle Olong Ogbu forced Arizona State punter Trevor Hankins to kick from beneath his goal posts and the East once again got to start a drive on the West side of midfield, this time at the 31.

The West defense held and Auburn kicker Wes Byrum's 27-yard attempt sailed wide to the right to maintain a 16-0 score early in the second quarter.

But that was only a momentary setback for Reeves' squad because soon thereafter, Parker threw his 295-pound MVP body at quarterback Scott Tolzien (2 of 5, 13 yds) from Wisconsin, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Miami cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, setting up the East yet again within easy scoring distance, this time at the West 28.

Deleware quarterback Pat Devlin was two-of-seven for 22 yards found Texas tight end Greg Smith for 20 yards and a first down at the eight, but again the West held – only this time Byrum made the 25-yarder to extend his team's lead to 19-0 midway through the second quarter.

On the ensuring possession, the West drive stalled again but this time Philips' team managed to get to a punting situation and for the first time in the half, it was the East offense that had to start a drive in the shadow of their own goal posts, eventually resulting in the West getting the ball back on a punt downed at the East 34.

Now the field-position cleat was on the other foot, so to speak, and Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle (6 of 12, 45 yds) engineered a drive that resulted in a five-yard TD pass to Julius Thomas from Portland State, the 6-foot-5 tight end getting open on a crossing pattern at the back of the end zone. Enderle apparently liked the way that play worked, so much so that he came right back to Thomas on the two-point conversion, this time hitting him on a turnaround at the goal line to cut the East lead to 19-8 at the two-minute warning.

After a rather uneventful and scoreless third quarter, the final frame opened with an interception by West linebacker Winston Venable from Boise State who picked off Devlin at the 26 and returned the pick 18 yards before being dragged down at the eight. But the West couldn't cash in on what would prove to be the East's only turnover of the game, squandering this golden opportunity and turning the ball back to the East on the very next play when Iowa State strong safety David Sims picked off an attempted swing pass by Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson (6 of 12, 54 yds) at the nine.

Despite the brief fireworks to start the quarter, after the back-to-back interceptions the game settled back into the three-and-out tempo that had marked the third quarter.

The East managed to bring a little life to the crowd late in the game when the West offense reverted to its first-quarter form, fumbling in the shadow of their own goal posts. This time it was Tennessee defensive end Chris Walker's hit that jarred the ball loose from Johnson, setting up a lineman's dream for North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin who scooped it up a three-yard TD. Byrum's PAT kick was blocked, accounting for the 25-8 final.

The game ended on a somewhat questionable note with the East offense taking a knee three times to run off the final two minutes of a game that is basically played to showcase the talents of these pro prospects for NFL scouts. Conceivably a half dozen plays might have been run during that kneel-down time.

But bottom line, the real winners in this game are the young kids whose lives are made better thanks to the many free medical procedures provided by Shriners Hospitals throughout the nation.