Shrine Game: West holds back East in final second
SAN ANTONIO -- After a disappointing senior season, Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal turned the East-West Shrine game into his personal restoration project.
McNeal passed for 211 yards and two touchdowns -- the second coming with two minutes left -- to rally the West to a 35-31 win Saturday in a college all-star game that wasn't decided until the final play of a frantic fourth quarter.
"I guess it might have been questionable about my throwing, my deep ball. I hit all my deep balls on point today," McNeal said.
The East, which saw a 10-point lead evaporate in the last five minutes, had a chance to win when Marques Colston from Hofstra caught a desperation pass from Northwestern's Brett Basanez at the 1 with a second left.
Arkansas tailback De'Arrius Howard, who ran for three touchdowns, was stuffed short of the goal line by a swarm of defenders as time expired.
"They snapped the ball, I ran across the line of scrimmmage, boxed the fullback and made the tackle," Stanford linebacker Kevin Schimmelmann said. "On the line, I was just guessing. If they made a pass play, we might have been in trouble."
McNeal struggled through an inconsistent senior season and missed his last game against Texas because of an ankle injury. He turned in an impressive week of practice before hundreds of NFL scouts.
"With me being hurt the last game and not being able to play, that hurt me too," he said. "But coming out here and being able to play with a couple of my teammates for the last time, that was a special moment for me."
Some analysts had considered McNeal a better quarterback than Texas' Vince Young before the season started. McNeal performed well with a chance to get scouts' attention again.
"The way I've been playing and practicing this week, I don't think it could have hurt it none," McNeal said.
Howard's third touchdown put the East ahead 31-21 before McNeal rallied the West, hitting Aggies teammate Jason Carter for 66 yards to set up a short touchdown run by New Mexico's DonTrelle Moore.
After the East was forced to punt, McNeal hit Todd Watkins of Brigham Young for 45 yards. Then it was Hass, last season's Biletnikoff Award winner as best receiver, who was wide open in the corner of the end zone for what turned out to be the winning score.
"I don't think anybody should have any doubt about the way he throws the football, his potential as a quarterback," said Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione, who coached the West team Saturday. "It's time for him to take the next step in his career."
The East led 7-0 after the opening drive when Howard rumbled seven yards for his first score. The touchdown was set up by Auburn tight end Cooper Wallace's 66-yard reception in which he hauled in the pass and bounced off Texas Tech safety Dwayne Slay, one of the Big 12's biggest hitters.
The West answered with a 78-yard drive that came mostly on McNeal's legs. He completed only three passes on the drive, but ran four times and scrambled away from two defenders before hitting Oregon tight end Tim Day for a 1-yard TD.
McNeal connected with Hass for 40 yards to set up a touchdown run by Texas Tech's Taurean Henderson that made it 14-7 for the West.
Hass finished with four catches for 107 yards.
Toledo's Bruce Gradkowski cut the West lead to 21-14 with a 10-yard TD pass to Colston, who tipped the ball to himself over a defender and hung on for a tough catch in the end zone.
Colston had five catches for 82 yards and his 6-foot-5 frame caused headaches for defensive backs.
"I'm 6-5 for a reason. I just went up and got it," the Division I-AA receiver said. "I think I came out here and put on a pretty good showing."
The 81st Shrine Game was moved to San Antonio from San Francisco after years of declining interest in the Bay Area. But Texas hardly seemed any more interested, drawing only 18,533 to the Alamodome, the smallest crowd since 17,000 watched the second game in 1927.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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