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MOBILE, Ala. — Big plays in all three phases of the game put the North in control in the 2012 Senior Bowl.
Cincinnati RB Isaiah Pead set a game record for punt-return yardage with two long returns, Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins and Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson each threw TD passes, and Purdue PK Carson Wiggs hit three field goals as the North defeated the South 23-13 in front of 40,646 fans at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Saturday.
Pead, who also led all rushers with 31 yards on eight carries, earned game MVP honors. His two punt returns, both in the second quarter, went for 60 and 38 yards. The 60-yarder featured him starting right and cutting back to his left toward the North sideline, before he was finally brought down at the South 18. The North capitalized with Wiggs' second field goal of the game to take a 13-6 lead with just over two minutes left in the first half.
"I hope just to prove that I'm a football player," Pead said afterward. "... And that's really all we came down here to prove."
The North took control of the game early in the second half as Cousins connected on a 41-yard TD to Arizona WR Gerell Robinson, who took a short pass the distance to take a 20-6 edge.
"It was just a little 'under' route," Robinson said. "... Kirk was stepping up and flipped it to me, and we took it to the crib."
Cousins, who completed 5-of-11 passes for 115 yards with an interception to go along with the TD, threw a couple of the game's more impressive passes, hitting Ohio State WR DeVier Posey for 33 yards in the second quarter and N.C. State WR T.J. Graham for 22 yards in the third quarter.
"You want it to be perfect, but it never is. Short of being perfect, I think it was a great week," Cousins said of his Senior Bowl week. "I showed my arm strength. I showed what I'm capable of, not just on the field, but off the field, and I felt very good about what I did today. I put my best foot forward."
The North defense was the story early. On the game's first drive, Oklahoma DB Jamell Fleming forced Arkansas WR Joe Adams to fumble, with Michigan State DB Trenton Richardson recovering at the South 42. Wiggs would connect on his first field goal, a 27-yarder, to give the North a 3-0 lead.
After the South evened the score, the North defense struck again. Brandon Weeden, facing heavy pass-rush pressure, was intercepted by Utah State LB Bobby Wagner, whose 12-yard return put the North on the South 46. Wagner, who notched seven tackles, earned Most Outstanding Player honors for the North. Another standout was Marshall DE Vinny Curry, who had two sacks.
The North made the most of the takeaway, scoring the first touchdown of the game, an eight-yard strike from Wilson to California WR Marvin Jones off play-action. Early in the drive, Wilson needed all of his skills to avert disaster after he dropped a snap. He picked up the ball, rolled left and found Robinson for 23 yards.
The South defense also impressed. North Carolina DE Quinton Coples, who's likely to be a first-round pick, played to that level Saturday, save for a second-quarter personal-foul penalty. He notched a sack, as did Alabama DE-OLB Courtney Upshaw, who will also vie to be the top player drafted out of this game. He bowed after a third-quarter sack of Wilson to the cheers of a crowd not lacking in Crimson Tide faithful.
The South would cut the North's lead in half early in the fourth quarter, as Arizona QB Nick Foles (11-of-15 passing, 136 yards) hit teammate Juron Criner for a 20-yard TD. Criner, who caught six passes for 77 yards, was a frequent target of South quarterbacks, as was the swift Adams, who hauled in six passes for 116 yards and earned the South's Most Outstanding Player honors.
However, in the end, the North just made a few more plays. In the fourth quarter, Coples beat his man and closed in on Boise State QB Kellen Moore, but Moore was able to get off a touch pass to Wisconsin FB Bradie Ewing, who hauled in the 23-yard receptiom. Wiggs would end that drive with his third field goal, and the North had iced the game.
Jones (knee) left the game, as did Cal Poly DB Asa Jackson (ankle) and Georgia DB Brandon Boykin (lower leg). ...The South attempted 45 passes, compared to 30 for the North. ... South Carolina S Antonio Allen led the South with seven tackles.