MOBILE, Ala. — The South squad started the Senior Bowl off with a bang, and never looked back.
On the first play, Florida State QB Christian Ponder heaved the ball down the right sideline toward Miami (Fla.) WR Leonard Hankerson. He underthrew Hankerson, but the wideout came back and bobbled the ball before bringing it in for a 49-yard reception.
"Ugly ball, it got caught up in the wind. I knew right when it was coming out of my hand it was a bad throw," Ponder said. "But he went up and got it and made a great play. It set the tone for the game."
Ponder completed 7-of-13 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, taking home MVP honors in the South's 24-10 victory over the North in the 2011 Under Armour Senior Bowl at Ladd Peebles Stadium in front of 40,646 fans. Hankerson had five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, winning Offensive Player of the Game honors, and Texas A&M OLB Von Miller had two tackles for loss, earning Defensive Player of the Game honors.
"The call was a double-go. We wanted to set a tempo for the South team so we could end with a 'W,' " Hankerson said about the opening play. "I saw the ball was short and just made a play."
The South, which was coached by Chan Gailey and the Buffalo Bills' staff, turned Hankerson's big play into three points. Ponder tried to find Hankerson again at the goal line, but it was broken up by North Carolina CB Kendrick Burney, so the South settled for a 23-yard field goal from LSU's Josh Jasper.
The North, which was directed by Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals' staff, could not get any offense going in the first half, as it didn't get a first down until late in the second quarter. Miller had a pair of tackles on the North's first drive, including stopping Boise State speedster Titus Young for a loss on a reverse.
Hankerson scored the first touchdown of the game on the South's second drive. The play was set up by Derrick Locke's 15-yard run on 4th-and-1. Ponder hit Hankerson on an out route toward the pylon to put the South up 10-0.
"He had to get past the sticks. I timed it up, threw it back on his outside shoulder, he made the catch and scored," Ponder said.
Washington QB Jake Locker struggled to move the ball early on, getting strip-sacked by Texas DE Sam Acho late in the first quarter after Acho had blown past Colorado OLT Nate Solder. Acho (South) and Burney (North) were named the game's Most Outstanding Players.
With Alabama QB Greg McElroy, a crowd favorite, in, the South upped its lead to 17-0 in the second quarter. Two personal-foul penalties by the North got the South to the 15-yard line, when West Virginia RB Noel Devine scampered for 12 yards on a screen pass. It took four running plays before Devine finally found paydirt on 4th-and-goal from the one, giving the South the big cushion heading into the half.
The North finally got on the board in the third quarter on a 24-yard field goal by UCLA's Kai Forbath. Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick connected with Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher a few times on the drive to set up the score. Sanzenbacher led the North with five catches for 62 yards.
Maryland RB Da'Rel Scott pulled the North closer late in the third quarter. His 34-yard reception got the North into the red zone. After a pass interference by USC CB Shareece Wright, Scott punched it in from one yard out, making the score 17-10.
Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi moved the ball for the North in the fourth quarter, but Forbath missed a 45-yard field goal with a little more than eight minutes to go.
The South sealed the deal late in the fourth quarter. Ponder found TCU WR Jeremy Kerley for a 23-yard touchdown pass with just 3:04 left in the game, putting the South up 24-10.
Locker, one of the highest-profile players here this week, completed 6-of-10 passes for 98 yards. McElroy completed 5-of-8 throws for 36 yards, but left the game with an apparent hand injury.
Louisville RB Bilal Powell led all rushers with 50 yards on 10 carries. Washington LB Mason Foster had a game-high eight tackles.
Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan had a sack and three tackles for loss for the North.