Northwestern’s Kafka shines in Shrine game
Associated Press Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Mike Kafka was the only East team quarterback who didn’t get to practice the 2-minute drill in front of NFL scouts before the East-West Shrine Game this week.
Instead, he showed the pros what he could do in live action.
The former Northwestern quarterback threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless with 6 seconds remaining, lifting the East to a 13-10 win over the West on Saturday in the annual showcase for college all-stars looking to make an impression on NFL scouts.
“At Northwestern, we were notorious for close games,” Kafka said. “I felt like a spent my whole career playing games right down to the wire.”
Kafka overcame a slow start to lead the 11-play, 55-yard drive on a day when his team’s defense was dominant. He finished with 150 yards passing and was selected the Offensive most valuable player.
It was just as sweet for Quarless, who helped Penn State rally over LSU in the Capital One Bowl in the same stadium on Jan. 1, to have consecutive comeback wins. He slipped behind the defense and allowed Kafka to loft a pass over the middle so he could make the leaping catch.
“In the huddle I told Kafka, ‘Just throw it up and I’ll make a play.’ He threw a perfect pass,” Quarless said. “It just feels good to go out with a bang.”
A play before the winning TD pass to Penn State’s tight end, Kafka was smothered and surrounded by pass rushers but somehow managed to elude them for 9 yards up the middle.
Max Hall of BYU tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Moya of UCLA moments before the East rallied.
Joshua Shene of Ole Miss added field goals of 44 and 40 yards for the East. And Texas’ Hunter Lawrence had a 47-yarder for the West.
The attendance of 8,345 was the lowest in the history of the longest running college all-star game, according to the game’s media guide. The Shrine has been played every year since 1925. This was the first year it was held in Florida.
The good news for players: NFL scouts were still there.
“I think I can make all the throws,” Hall said. “More importantly, I think that I can lead a team. I hope the scouts saw that.”
Van Eskridge of East Carolina, who was chosen as defensive MVP, intercepted a pass by Kansas’ Todd Reesing that hung in the air far too long in the second quarter. Wisconsin’s O’Brien Schofield intercepted Hall earlier in the game.
Reesing, already dogged for his 5-foot-11 height, was disappointed with his effort but said one game doesn’t define his abilities, especially with limited snaps.
“I’m tall enough to ride the rides over at Universal Studios,” said Reesing, who was 2 for 5 passing for 11 yards with the interception. “I was a successful quarterback in high school and college, and I can do the same as a professional.”
Another West quarterback was able to rebound.
After an unspectacular first quarter, Hall came back strong in the fourth. He zipped a 41-yard pass to Eastern Washington’s Nathan Overbay, the tight end cutting across the middle of a wide-open field. Two plays later, he connected with Moya to give the West a 10-6 lead with 6:59 left.
Then Kafka came back.
Finding tight seams in the defense he had missed earlier, the East’s starting quarterback made quality throws on the final drive, but his best work was done on his feet.
He dropped back from the West’s 10-yard line and didn’t even have time to set his feet before the pass rush collapsed on him. He ducked his head, buckled his knees and prepared to be sacked before, somehow, slipping through the line for the run to setup the winning score and give the East a second straight win.
“I was scratching and clawing to get out there so we could get one more play,” Kafka said.
The players spent the week mingling with general managers and scouts between practices. Most of them now look ahead to the NFL combine in Indianapolis beginning Feb. 24.
“This was only the first,” Reesing said, “of many interviews to come.”