The passers did their best to steal the show from quarterbacks Desmond Ridder and Kenny Pickett in the Senior Bowl.
Cincinnati’s Ridder threw two touchdown passes and the national team had eight sacks in a 20-10 win over Team USA on Saturday.
“We didn’t come here to have fun,” Minnesota defensive lineman Boye Mafe said. “We told ourselves to go out and have our best games and play our best football. It was the last time we could represent our schools, so why not leave on a high note.
Ridder helped finish a job started by Pittsburgh’s Pickett, a Heisman Trophy finalist who passed 6 of 6 for 89 yards and a touchdown while playing only the first quarter.
The national pass rushers made the afternoon tough for their quarterback counterparts by ending the week-long showcase for the NFL’s top graduating senior and junior prospects.
Perrion Winfrey of Oklahoma, Jesse Luketa and Mafe of Penn State each had two sacks. Luketa and Mafe also forced a fumble on North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell’s sacks.
Winfrey was the game’s MVP, while Mafe was the National Player of the Game, and Western Kentucky defensive lineman DeAngelo Malone was chosen as Team USA’s MVP.
Winfrey wore a jersey signed by her teammates and was able to follow in the footsteps of Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, a 2014 alumnus.
“I’ve dreamed of being in the Senior Bowl since I was a little kid,” Winfrey said. “I saw Aaron Donald dominate the Senior Bowl and I wanted to be the next to do it.”
Liberty’s Pickett and Malik Willis were among the Senior Bowl passers vying with Mississippi’s Matt Corral to be the first quarterback picked.
Willis started for Team USA and mostly showed off his running and scrambling ability. He passed for just 11 yards but ran for a record 54 on four carries in the first quarter, flirting with a touchdown on a 27-yard scamper to end the first quarter.
Teams started each term with new possessions.
Ridder completed 4 of 6 passes for 68 yards to finish with another win. He led Cincinnati to 44 career wins and to the College Football Playoffs this season, ending in a semifinal loss to Alabama.
The national team delivered most of the big plays, culminating in Ridder’s 25-yard touchdown against Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson in the fourth quarter.
Pickett, who led Pitt to his first ACC championship, capped his performance with a 20-yard touchdown off Baylor running back Abram Smith late in the first quarter.
Pickett spent the remainder of the match as a spectator. But he hopes the performance of the week has impressed NFL teams after taking a huge leap forward as a player and prospect in his senior season.
“Everyone was saying it was a flash in the pan season,” Pickett said. “Thirteen games played at a really high level, I don’t think that’s the case.
“So I wanted to come here and continue on that, being a consistent player.”
Howell, who had teammates to recover his two fumbles, swooped in and passed Team USA on his first score. He recovered a wide snap and ran left for a 2-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.
Howell’s only achievement on the drive was a 19-yard running back against Utah’s TJ Pledger, a late sub who only arrived in time for Thursday practice and also had a run 23 yards.
North Dakota State’s Christian Watson caught a ground ball and quickly surged for a 38-yarder to set up the touchdown.
Then Ridder rolled a right and hit Colorado State tight end Trey McBride for a 6-yard touchdown late in the second.
Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe had a game-high 103 yards with one interception. Howell was 6 of 9 for 67 yards. Nevada’s Carson also passed for 67 yards but threw an interception.
Winfrey received a trophy filled with peanut butter cups from sponsor Reese’s, but had no intention of enjoying it.
“I’m not going to eat one,” he said.
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