Small college stars shine in Blue-Gray Classic

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 26, 2003

TROY, Ala. - The quarterbacks were from San Jose State and Evangel. The star running back played for Ottawa College in Kansas, and a big-play receiver represented Nebraska-Omaha.

The small-college players shined brighter than those from big programs in the Blue squad's 31-24 victory in the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic on Thursday.

''That was kind of surprising to see the big D-I schools out here and all the small-school guys kind of showed up,'' Northern Iowa linebacker Jonathan Harrell of the Blue team said. ''That tells you it doesn't really matter if you come from a big school or not.

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''If you're a player, you're a player.''

Players such as San Jose State's Scott Rislov and Ottawa's Derrick Ward made the most of the revival of a Christmas Day tradition that was canceled last year because game officials couldn't line up a sponsor.

The game had been held 50 miles north in Montgomery since 1938, matching college seniors from the North (Blue) against those from the South (Gray). Players from Penn State, Notre Dame and Alabama were among the participants.

Rislov was a workmanlike 16-of-24 passing for 195 yards and a 35-yard touchdown to Ryan Krause of Nebraska-Omaha to earn overall MVP honors for the Blue.

''That's something we preach at our school - don't make any mistakes,'' said Rislov, who completed all three attempts for 62 yards on a tiebreaking drive in the fourth quarter.

''If you've got to punt, that's not the worst thing in the world. Play within yourself, play within the team game, and everything will work out.''

Ward had 59 yards receiving and 38 rushing to earn offensive MVP honors for the Blue. Another NAIA player, Evangel (Mo.) quarterback Brett Mitchell, had only two completions - but they went for 105 yards.

Syracuse linebacker Rich Scanlon won defensive honors with eight tackles.

The Gray's overall MVP was Cody Spencer, a North Texas linebacker who had a game-high 13 tackles. Defensive MVP was Alabama linebacker Derrick Pope (nine tackles), while East Carolina's 253-pound running back, Vonta Leach, plowed in for two short touchdowns to earn offensive honors.

Marshall's Butchie Wallace scored on runs of 17 and 3 yards in the fourth quarter for the Blue. He broke his right hand in his last visit to Troy State, a 33-24 loss in September.

''I'm just happy to come back down here and get a win,'' said Wallace, a late substitute for injured Southern Illinois running back Tom Koutsos.

''All my bad memories here - at least most of them - are wiped out. It's something I'm going to cherish forever.''

Koutsos hurt his right knee in practice, so Wallace flew in Tuesday night and only practiced once. He played for Blue offensive coach Bob Pruett at Marshall, compiling a long list of injuries.

that included a sprained ankle, concussion, pulled leg muscles and back problems.

''He got here late, then got to play and scored two touchdowns,'' Pruett said. ''That's an awesome deal for him.

''He was sitting by the phone when we called and got here the next day.''

Louisiana Tech quarterback Luke McCown found Bobby Blizzard of North Carolina for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left, but Ward recovered the onside kick.

McCown was 15-of-24 passing for 114 yards, while Jackson State's Robert Kent went 5-of-9 for 52 yards. Kent replaced Kentucky's Jared Lorenzen, who skipped the game with a nagging shoulder injury.

McCown overcame a sluggish start by leading a big third-quarter drive. A four-year starter at Louisiana Tech, he had a 39-yard scramble and completed three short passes to set up Leach's second touchdown run, a 3-yarder.

McCown was just 3-of-7 for 12 yards in the first half.

''I don't like to lose no matter what the circumstances,'' Gray receiver Huey Whittaker of South Florida said. ''It's all fun, though.''