Erik Ainge wasn’t even on the Senior Bowl roster a couple of weeks ago, but that didn’t prevent the Tennessee QB from leading the South to a dramatic come-from-behind, last-second win Saturday evening in Mobile, Ala.
Ainge, who owned the hot hand late, handed off to Florida WR Andre Caldwell with two seconds on the clock and the former Gators star bulled his way into the end zone to tie the contest at 16-16. Brandon Coutu, a Georgia product, kicked the extra point to give the South a 17-16 victory.
The final seconds belonged to the Southeastern Conference as a Vol moved his club down the field to get in position for a win, a Gator surged ahead for the tie and a Bulldog won it with the chippy. But just moments before the fantastic finish, it appeared the North had everything locked up.
Holding a 16-10 lead, North coach Lane Kiffin of the Raiders opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the South 14. Cal RB Justin Forsett was stopped for no gain, though, leaving a window open for Ainge. He completed six passes, including an 18-yarder to Caldwell on fourth-and-10 from the South’s 14, as his team marched 86 yards in 2:48.
"It’s fun to end your college career like that," said Ainge, who was 13-of-21 for 159 yards in the second half. "I’ll remember handing the ball to a Gator to win for the rest of my life."
The Caldwell score was preceded by Ainge’s three consecutive incompletions from the 2. That led Mike Martz — occasionally critiqued for being too pass-happy — to go to the ground.
"On that last play, you have a chance to call anything because it’s the last play," said South coach Mike Nolan of the San Francisco 49ers, "whereas the ones prior, he just had to keep it alive and not use up all the clock. A play like that, you call it the first or second play and we never get another play off. It was a great call and it worked."
Ainge took advantage of a late opportunity to play in the game. Louisville QB Brian Brohm withdrew due to an ankle injury and Ainge topped off a good week with a nice showing at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Michigan QB Chad Henne, who was named the North’s Offensive MVP and was praised for his practice performances, had staked the North to a 16-7 third-quarter lead behind his two TD passes.
"They just did a great job on the last drive," Henne said. "Erik made some great throws and the receivers made some great plays. Everybody played well. It’s an all-star game, so everybody has something to be proud about."
Ainge was named South Offensive MVP while LSU linebacker Ali Highsmith (four tackles) was South Defensive MVP. Southern Cal DL Sedrick Ellis remained a force in live action, registering a sack and a safety. Ellis was the North’s defensive MVP while Notre Dame DT Trevor Laws (six tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery) was named the Senior Bowl’s Most Outstanding Lineman.
Despite Ainge’s heroics, South RB Matt Forte of Tulane earned overall MVP honors. His 59 rush yards were a game high and he also had 38 yards on four receptions.
Tags: Chad Henne, Erik Ainge
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