Monday, January 13, 2014
There's something special about the Medal of Honor Bowl.
It starts with the Medal of Honor recipients and Wounded Warrior veterans who were individually honored before kickoff. There's the explosion of the cannons that thundered through The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium after each score, surprising most everyone outside of the Bulldog faithful. And it's the crowd itself. An estimated 7,000 fans braved the potential rain, 20 mile-per-hour winds and tornado warning for the inaugural event.
“I was elated with how everything went,” Bowl Chairman Tommy McQueeney said. “I thought it was a wonderful success. The crowd was enthusiastic, and having the Medal of Honor folks here, and embraced in that way, was tremendous. That's the real reason we're doing this, to honor these great American heroes.”
At the center of it all was a football game; Ninety-two potential draftees vying for a spot in the pros in front of more than 100 scouts. The American team captured a 20-3 win over the American team but, as in most all-star games, the players' performances weigh more heavily the final score.
“I think it's more important to give these kids a chance than to actually focus on trying to win the game,” Friedgen said. “But the team whose players show the best usually ends up winning. It's about these kids showing what they can do. But there is a reason we keep score.”
Solomon Patton entered with a lot to prove as a 5-foot-9, 180-pound slot receiver aiming for the NFL. The Florida Gators alum shined, turning in the day's best performance with 98 all-purpose yards and earning American team MVP honors. Fort Valley State linebacker Deron Furr was awarded the National team MVP with six tackles, a shared sack and two pass breakups to add his name into the mix of draft and free-agent conversations.
“This was a big opportunity and I wanted to be sure to take full advantage of it,” Patton said. “I told myself coming in I was going to come work hard and try to perfect everything my coaches taught me. I feel like I definitely showed the scouts I can make plays.”
Patton setup the American team inside the National 30-yard line on its opening drive with a 33-yard reverse. Catawba's Danny O'Brien hooked up with Tennessee-Martin's Jeremy Butler down to the National 1-yard line. O'Brien finished the drive with a keeper up the middle into the end zone.
Maryland's Marcus Whitfield recovered a muffed punt by the National team to set the American squad up at midfield early in the second quarter. Merrimack's Joe Clancy found Patton for 26 yards to the National 22, and Portland State's D.J. Adams finished the drive with a 19-yard burst into the end zone.
O'Brien finished 5-11 for 87 yards, while Clancy was 4-10 for 88, both leading the day at quarterback.
Clancy connected with Patton again in the fourth quarter, down to the National 1-yard line where Adams added his second score. Adams finished with 13 carries for 32 yards and two scores.
The National team's only points came on a 40-yard field goal into the wind from Ohio State's Drew Basil in the second quarter.
Troy's Corey Robinson was 4-5 for 52 yards on the drive. Robinson finished the day 7-10 for 65.
“We had some kids make some big plays,” American head coach Ralph Friedgen said. “Patton obviously, and the quarterbacks, overall, I wasn't disappointed with how they played. I think a lot of kids helped themselves for the next step, and I don't think many kids hurt their chances today.”
Next on the agenda for the Medal of Honor Bowl is growth. With the experience gained this year, the Bowl committee hopes to secure a title sponsor and broadcast live on TV, while steadily increasing the game's level of talent. A successful first run, from the practices to the fan events, pregame to the game, this year set the groundwork for the makings of a special event.
“We don't want to be another all-star game, we want to be the best all-star game,” McQueeney said. “But more than just a football game, a family-friendly event that can make the community proud. I think we set the framework and have something we can build on.”