MOBILE, Ala. — Former Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond was chosen MVP of Saturday's Senior Bowl, but two fellow Southeastern Conference Western Division products made the decisive big play.
Feleipe Franks threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kenny Yeboah in the fourth quarter to help seal the National Team's 27-24 victory over the American Team in the showcase of NFL prospects.
Franks, who played this past season at Arkansas as a graduate transfer from Florida, set up the scoring strike with Yeboah of Ole Miss with a 29-yard completion to Dez Fitzpatrick from Louisville. Fitzpatrick had six catches for 90 yards and was named offensive player of the game.
Mond, though, had a huge third quarter in which he passed for 141 of his 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns after a slow start.
"It was a great feeling, whether it was a simple dropback or making an insane play," the former Aggies standout said. "Everything was kind of rolling my way. Obviously, kind of shaky at the beginning, but it definitely shows a lot of poise to be able to bounce back."
Michael Carter also had a big game. The former North Carolina running back scored on a pile-driving 12-yard run late in the third quarter to help the National Team regain the lead after a Mond-led comeback.
American Team quarterback Jamie Newman threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Trevon Grimes of Florida with 49 seconds left after Franks and Yeboah made it a two-score game. Newman — a former Wake Forest starter, he transferred to Georgia but opted out before the season amid the COVID-19 pandemic — set it up with a 35-yard completion to tight end Quintin Morris from Bowling Green.
Defensive lineman Cam Sample of Tulane was the defensive player of the game. He had seven tackles and a share of a sack in a game blending players from multiple levels of college football: Power Five conferences such as the SEC, Group of Five teams like Tulane and even the Football Championship Subdivision and Division II.
"We don't play the Alabamas or Ohio States every week, but we're always hungry," Sample said.
The game was played for the first time at the University of South Alabama's new Hancock Whitney Stadium, with Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores leading the National squad and Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule his American counterpart. It also switched from the traditional North versus South format.
Fitzpatrick delivered for a short-handed position group.
"We were a little bit low on receivers," Flores said. "A couple of guys went out. Availability is key, and he was available and able to capitalize on his opportunities.
Franks was 9-of-16 passing for 122 yards. Carter, who averaged 8 yards per carry in his final season with the Tar Heels, wasn't far off in this all-star exhibition, gaining 60 yards on eight carries and making two catches for 15 yards.
Mond, Texas A&M's career passing leader, threw a pair of touchdown passes in the third quarter to help erase a 13-0 halftime deficit. Mond even converted one 2-point play with a run and another with a pass, following touchdowns of 15 yards to Clemson's Amari Rodgers and 14 yards to Tennessee's Josh Palmer.
Newman finished 10-of-14 for 118 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The American backs were working behind an offensive line with only six available blockers much of the game.
"I thought when they had time they did a nice job," Rhule said of his quarterbacks. "They made some plays under duress, made some big throws. Jamie took us down and scored at the end.
"I don't think you can really evaluate guys too much based upon a game with that many injuries. I think you need to look at the totality of the week, and I thought the guys were smart, they're good football players and this was a great step for them."
The American team was without two of national champion Alabama's biggest offensive stars. Mac Jones dressed out and went through warmups but didn't play after injuring his left ankle in Thursday's final practice.
"My ankle was still stinging a little bit," the quarterback, who is a potential first-round pick, said on NFL Network. "I didn't want to take any big risks."
Tailback Najee Harris, after practicing Tuesday and Wednesday, withdrew from the game because of a lingering ankle injury from the national title game earlier in January.