Forte, Ainge Lead South Team to Victory

The South Team provided an exciting ending to the 2008 Under Armour Senior Bowl as Florida wide receiver Andre Caldwell scored on an end-around run as the final second ticked off the clock in Mobile, Alabama. Caldwell's touchdown helped his team secure a 17-16 victory over the North Team.

Florida wide receiver Andre Caldwell scored on an end-around run on a fourth-down play as time expired to help the South Team clinch a 17-16 win over the North Team in the 2008 Under Armour Senior Bowl.

It was a game that was filled with irony as play progressed at Ladd-Peebles Field in Mobile, Alabama under overcast skies and a temperature hovering around 50 degrees. Caldwell, a receiver, tied the game on a running play called by San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who is well-known for his aggressive and potent passing offenses.

Tennessee's Erik Ainge, a quarterback who was left off the original invitation list for the game, led the South Team during a 14-play, 86-yard drive, setting up Georgia kicker Brandon Coutou to win the game with his extra point kick. After some observers remarked that during the week that he hadn't done much in practices to stand out, Ainge was arguably the most efficient quarterback on this day, completing 13 of 21 passes for 159 yards during his game appearances and earned South Team Offensive MVP honors for his results.

Tulane running back Matt Forte, who came into this game after rushing for 2,100 yards during his senior year, knew that he needed to prove that it wasn't any less of a feat just because his team had played in Conference USA. He did that and more, emerging as the game's MVP. Among running backs who took their turns on the field from the Pac-10, the ACC, the SEC and the Big 12, Forte outshined them all, rushing for 59 on just eight carries to average 7.4 yards per run. And he was the team's leading receiver as well with 4 catches for 38 yards. During the final drive of the game, Forte also came up big, breaking a pair of tackle attempts after catching a screen pass and bullying his way for 13 yards to the North Team's 2-yard line to set up the winning score.

Some players who came into this game expected to play well also delivered. Michigan's Chad Henne led the North Team to their two touchdowns with passes to California wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins and Missouri tight end Martin Rucker. Henne, who was named the North Team's Offensive MVP, completed five of nine pass attempts for 64 yards.  USC's Chauncey Washington led the North Team's running backs with 38 yards on five carries.

California's Lavelle Hawkins put the first points of the day on the board when he made a nice adjustment on a 36-yard pass from Henne to put the North up 7-0. The play was set up by an interception made by Penn State linebacker Dan Connor at the South's 40-yard line on a pass thrown by Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan. Connor returned the errant throw four yards to the 36 yard-line.


Michigan quarterback Chad Henne gets ready to throw downfield during first-half action.
AP Photo/Dave Martin

In the second quarter, Kentucky's Andre Woodson took over the quarterbacking reigns for the South, but was largely ineffective, ending the day with just three completions out of six attempts and one touchdown. After being hit by Eastern Michigan defensive end Jason Jones, the ball popped out and into the hands of Notre Dame defensive tackle Trevor Laws.

But the North Team was unable to convert the opportunity into points as John David Booty's second-quarter pass into the end zone didn't have a high enough trajectory to clear UTEP's Quintin Demps, who made an interception in his own end zone.

Andre Woodson, with some nice running support from Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice and Arkansas running back Peyton Hillis, responded with a drive that knotted the game at seven points each when he connected on a short drag route to Tennessee tight end Brad Cottam.

 The North Team inserted quarterback Joe Flacco, who created plenty of buzz during the week with his passes, but then proceeded to primarily run the ball. After a personal foul put them into a 3rd-and-20 situation, Flacco sent a deep floating down the right sideline, but it hung up a bit and didn't get far enough to the outside to avoid an opportunistic interception by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Like Flacco, the Tennessee State cornerback was turning heads with his play throughout the week. He was consistently slapping balls away from receivers and making interceptions during practice sessions.

While the turnover stopped a drive, the resulting field position ended up costing the South squad when USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis blew into the backfield to tackle Woodson for a safety. A combination of indecisiveness and the site of Ellis seemed to paralyze Woodson long enough to put his team behind by a count of 9-7. Ellis had a sack, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery on the day and earned Defensive MVP honors for the North while LSU linebacker Ali Smith was named the Defensive MVP for the South after making four tackles in the game.

With the North team forced to kick following the safety, Notre Dame's Tom Zbikowski returned the punted ball 38 yards all the way back to the South's 33-yard line. The return earned Zbikowski the Long Distance Play of the Game award.

With the South in good scoring position, Oklahoma State's Adarius Bowman caught a Flacco pass along the right side of the end zone and it appeared that momentum had shifted and the North would pull away. But referees ruled that Bowman, who caught the pass and got the required one-foot down in the end zone, lost control of the ball momentarily when he fell out of bounds. A replay didn't appear to clearly support that argument, but following the decision the North sent kicker Alexis Serna from Oregon State out to widen their two-point lead. However, he missed the 22-yard field goal attempt and the teams left the field at the half with the North still clinging to a 9-7 advantage.

In the second half, Ainge efficiently moved the South Team down the field to set up a Coutou field goal attempt to swing the score back in the South's favor, but he missed the 33-yard attempt.

Chad Henne returned to the game, but the North went three-and-out. The punt on fourth down by Mike Dragosavich, a 6-foot-5 punter out of North Dakota State, went 69 yards, setting an all-time Senior Bowl record.


Tulane running back and game MVP Matt Forte battles USC's Keith Rivers.
AP Photo/Dave Martin

Ainge again moved the South Team, but their drive was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 when a quarterback sneak was called and the North brought eight men into the box. 

Henne and the North Team took over on downs, and after converting a key third-down pass to Missouri tight end Martin Rucker to keep their drive alive, he returned to him a few plays later off a play-action fake for the team's second touchdown of the day, widening the gap to 16-7 early in the fourth quarter.

Colt Brennan got one more chance to move the South team, but wasn't even able to get a first down on the possession. Brennan closed out his Senior Bowl appearance completing just two of six passes for 21 yards and an interception. He was also sacked twice. 

It didn't really matter though, as John David Booty then fumbled the snap during his first set of downs in the second half. The ball was recovered by Texas A&M defensive lineman Red Bryant, giving the South squad terrific field position at the North's 38-yard line. While Booty completed six of 12 passes for 72 yards, his fumble and interception marred what would have otherwise been a solid performance.

Andre Woodson returned at quarterback for the South, and a run by Forte off a pitch up the left sideline for 17 yards put the team inside the North's 10-yard line. After two incomplete passes, Woodson was pressured again on third down and tried to run for the score. Virginia Tech linebacker Xavier Adibi made a saving tackle from behind, dropping Woodson a yard shy of the goal line. South head coach Mike Nolan opted for a field goal to cut the North's lead to 16-10 with 9:27 remaining.

Booty then led the North team on a time consuming, 13-play drive to their opponent's 14-yard line. Faced with a fourth-and-one with 2:55 remaining, North head coach Lane Kiffin decided to go for the first down instead of what would likely have been a win-clinching field goal.

That blew up in his face as Hampton defensive end Kendall Langford yanked California running back Justin Forsett down just shy of the first-down marker, setting up the South's game-winning drive led by Ainge. During that march, Ainge completed passes to five different receivers, including a nifty crossing pattern caught by Louisville's Harry Douglas that he turned into a 23-yard gain while crossing the field before running out of bounds to stop the clock with 25 seconds remaining.

The excitement grew even higher after Forte's screen pass catch and subsequent run to the two-yard line put the South in easy striking distance with 15 seconds to play. After using their final timeout, three consecutive pass attempts were incomplete, leading Martz to call for the end-around by Caldwell who just barely got the ball across the goal line as Indiana's Tracy Porter and Colorado's Tyrone Wheatley converged on him.

Under Armour, the game's title sponsor, presented Penn State linebacker Dan Connor and Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with the Under Armour New Prototype Award.

While the crowd was thinned a bit by showers and overcast skies, it was sold out prior to kickoff, making it the 14th consecutive sellout in Mobile.

Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and are syndicated through FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.

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