South CB James Butler, a Georgia Tech star, turned in the game's first big play with a first-quarter interception
The peripheral sights and sounds were different – a sea of RVs flying various college flags, high school girls in exaggerated, pastel petticoats during the pregame show, music blaring during plays – but between the lines it was still football, and the usual tenets still applied. Turnovers and penalties kill you, and big plays win games.
Despite dominating on defense for most of the first half, the South squad dropped the 2005 Senior Bowl to the North by a 23-13 score. The North broke it open with a string of big plays at the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third, scoring on four consecutive drives.
The South team was led by the Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coaching staff. The Bucs eagerly accepted the invite to coach the game, expecting the week of practice to be a boon to the team's scouting efforts for the upcoming NFL Draft, in which the Bucs have 11 picks. Breakout WR Michael Clayton, the Bucs' first-round pick in 2004, was on the South sideline to see former LSU teammates Marcus Spears, Corey Webster and Travis Daniels play in Saturday's game, offering a symbol of what the Bucs hope to achieve in this year's draft.
The week's worth of up-close scouting will certainly be a real and lasting benefit, but Gruden had hoped to leave with a victory as well. He stressed as much to the team during their Saturday morning meeting, but the South struggled to sustain drives and fell into a 16-3 hole in the third quarter.
The biggest star on the South squad, Auburn RB Cadillac Williams, played only sparingly. He was on the field for the game's first few snaps but did not register a carry. West Virginia's Kay-Jay Harris and Tennessee's Cedric Houston shared the load in the backfield, with Houston rushing for 49 yards on nine carries and Harris contributing 52 combined rushing and receiving yards.
Williams' Auburn teammate, QB Jason Campbell, did play extensively and continued his impressive week. Restrictive all-star game rules, including no men in motion or formation shifts, could have put the damper on Gruden's passing attack. However, Campbell and Georgia QB David Greene combined to complete 20 of 29 passes for 218 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Campbell started the game and led the first scoring drive, then sparked something of a comeback when he re-entered the contest late in the third quarter. It was Greene that finally got the South into the end zone with a minute to play, with a two-yard touchdown pass to Arkansas QB/WR/TE Matt Jones, one of the game's more intriguing prospects.
However, a 40-yard catch by Stanford TE Alex Smith led to one North field goal, a fumbled kickoff return by Georgia WR Fred Gibson led to another and Kansas State RB Darren Sproles scored the game's first touchdown on a 24-yard run early in the third quarter. Sproles and QB Charlie Frye were the North's top performers on offense, with the K-State back rushing for 55 yards on just six carries and the Akron passer completing 10 of 12 throws for 138 yards and one touchdown. Late in the fourth quarter, the North put the game away on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Northwestern RB Noah Herron after an impressive scramble by Frye.
Frye was named the game's overall MVP. Campbell and Clemson LB Leroy Hill were the South's offensive and defensive MVPs, respectively. Sproles and Oregon State DL Bill Swancutt took the honors for the North.
By virtue of the coin toss, Monte Kiffin's defense took the field first and needed just four snaps to turn in the game's first big play. North QB Kyle Orton tried to throw a deep post over the middle but Georgia Tech safety James Butler cut underneath the receiver and intercepted the pass. Butler's return to the North's 45-yard line took him out of bounds at the South bench, where he was mobbed by Defensive Backs Coach Mike Tomlin and Assistant Defensive Backs Coach Raheem Morris.
Tomlin's crew looked strong throughout the first half. The South squandered that first scoring opportunity on a fumbled exchange between Campbell and Harris but quickly forced a punt when Florida State CB Bryant McFadden made a diving pass breakup near midfield on third down.
Houston had the game's first nice run, following Texas FB Will Matthews around right end for an eight-yard gain that jump-started the game's first scoring drive. A 15-yard rollout pass from Campbell to Georgia WR Fred Gibson on third down sustained the drive, as did Gruden's decision to go for it on fourth-and-one from the North 41. Harris went over right tackle for two yards to move the sticks, and a scrambling Campbell found Gibson again at the nine-yard line on the next play, with the Bulldog receiver dragging his toes to stay inbounds.
Four snaps later, South K Jonathan Nichols completed the 12-play drive with a 29-yard field goal.
After Kiffin's defense forced another quick three-and-out, Gruden sent Greene out to direct the next South possession. Greene completed a 10-yard strike to Florida State WR Craphonso Thorpe for 10 yards but was sacked twice to kill the drive. A sack of Frye by South Carolina DE George Gause stopped the North shy of midfield on its next drive, but Oklahoma State P Cole Farden's line drive of a punt rolled down to the South's three-yard line.
Houston's 15-yard run got the South out of end zone trouble and a 16-yard pass to Greene's Georgia teammate, WR Reggie Brown, put the ball near midfield. However, a fumbled snap and a holding call that erased a third-down completion killed the drive after it had reached the North 40.
Frye finally got the North moving on the ensuing drive, beginning with a 18-yard screen pass to the shifty Herron. Three plays later, Frye hit Smith downfield for a 40-yard completion to the South's 10. Alabama LB Cornelius Wortham prevented a touchdown three plays later with a diving deflection in the end zone on third down, but Ohio State K Mike Nugent tied the game with a 25-yard field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, Howard DB Ronald Bartell ripped the ball out of Gibson's hands on the return, giving the North team possession at the South 32 with 30 seconds left in the half. Nugent, perhaps the nation's top kicker, capitalized with a 36-yard field goal to give the North a 6-3 halftime lead.
Miami QB Brock Berlin got the call to start the second half but was mauled trying to pass on third down and the South quickly gave the ball up. The North followed with an impressive 58-yard scoring jaunt, posting the game's first touchdown on a 24-yard run by Sproles and increasing its lead to 13-3.
A string of nice play calls, in particular a fake handoff followed by a pitch wide to Harris for a gain of 16 yards, got the South offense back on track on the next drive. Harris got the ball down to the North 35 with a nice spin move following a sideline catch. However, the South failed on another fourth-down try when Matthews was stopped short after catching a rollout pass from Berlin.
The North followed with its fourth straight scoring drive, as Nugent's 40-yard field goal made it 16-3. Campbell came back on to direct the next drive as the third quarter was coming to a close and gave the offense a spark, leading the South into the North red zone. However, a sack by star Iowa defensive lineman Matt Roth ended the touchdown threat and the South had to settle for Nichols' 40-yard field goal and a 16-6 deficit.
A pass interference call on Auburn S Junior Rosegreen helped the North reach the South 15-yard line on the ensuing drive, but a sack by USC DL Mike Patterson led to a third-and-18 at the 23. Frye barely escaped Spears in time to throw the 22-yard touchdown pass to Herron.
The South had time for one more drive, led by Greene. A fourth-down catch by Brown got the ball down to the 17 with two minutes to play, and Greene got the ball into the end zone with a fade-stop pass to Jones.