Dec. 25, 1999
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Disappointing seasons at Auburn, Notre Dame, Ohio State and UCLA meant a lot of big-time names played in the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic.
But it was the little players from the small schools who made the biggest difference Saturday, accounting for five of the six touchdowns in the 22-22 tie.
Kareem Larrimore of West Texas A&M returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, Demario Brown of Utah State and Curtis Keaton of James Madison combined for three touchdowns and quarterbacks from Lehigh and Northern Arizona both threw touchdown passes.
"Every game we play during the season is like an all-star game because we play the top teams in the country with the best players," Notre Dame's Deke Cooper said. "But it turns out this game is no different. Some of those little guys were great players today."
Jake Arians of UAB missed a 22-yard field goal as time expired, and the game ended in a tie. The attempt was way wide to the right, the last of a number of botched kicks by both teams.
"I'm always mad when I miss, but I had a good week anyway," Arians said. "I guess it was just probably meant to end in a tie."
The Blue had tied it 22-22 with 4:09 to play on a 2-yard touchdown run by Brown, his second score of the game.
But Travis Brawner of Southwest Missouri State missed the point after, which would have given the Blue the lead. Brawner's enusing kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Gray the ball on the 35.
The Gray couldn't convert, though, and the Blue moved to the Gray's 26, aided by Tim Lester's 38-yard pass to Windrell Hayes. But the Gray turned it over when Lester of Western Michigan was intercepted by Evan Howell of Oklahoma State.
The Gray then quickly moved for what it hoped would be the winning score. Justin Fuente of Murray State threw passes of 14 and 24 yards to JaJuan Dawson of Tulane. Keaton then gained 11 yards on two runs and Fuentes threw an 8-yard pass to Dawson.
The Gray, representing the South, then tried to run it in for the touchdown, but Keaton was pushed out of bounds at the 5 with five seconds to play.
That set up the chance for Arians, who earlier missed from 58 yards.
Keaton, who transferred from West Virginia to James Madison, was the Gray's outstanding player. He had 14 carries for 104 yards and scored one touchdown on a 6-yard run.
"I felt like I had something to prove today and I am not done doing that," Keaton said.
Quarterback Travis Brown of Northern Arizona, who threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Scott Montgomery of Duke, was the Gray's most valuable offensive player. Mike Green of Northwestern Louisiana was the most valuable defensive player.
"All of those kids can play," Gray coach Tommy Tuberville said. "They kind of get overlooked next to the big names, but they held their own today."
Iowa State's Darren Davis, younger brother of New Orleans Saints running back Troy Davis, was the Blue's outstanding player. He ran for 116 yards on 13 carries.
"You don't have to be 6-foot-3, 215 pounds to go out here and take care of business and that's what I was trying to show," said Davis, who is 5-foot-8, 190 pounds. "I was trying to show that little guys can play, too."
Hayes of Southern California had nine catches for 153 yards and was the most valuable offensive player. Keith Miller of California was the most valuable defensive player.
The Blue led 16-7 after three quarters. The Gray's only score at that point came when Larrimore returned the kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown in the Blue-Gray's 62 years.
In the fourth quarter, Brown threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Montgomery that made it 16-14. The Gray took the lead on its next possession. Dawson returned a punt 21 yards to the Gray 43, and Keaton broke free for a 50-yard gain. He scored two plays later on a 6-yard run. Dawson caught the 2-point conversion to put the Gray up 22-16.
"The biggest thing is the scouts felt I didn't have the speed to play with some of the top competition," Dawson said. "But coming into the game, after the week of practices, I felt I had the talent to compete with these guys. I think I showed that today against great players from all over."
By JENNA HALVATGIS FRYER
AP Sports Writer