Ex-Northwestern QB Kafka shows grit in East's Shrine Game win

East West Shrine FootballMike Kafka was the only East team quarterback who didn’t practice the 2-minute drill in front of NFL scouts before the East-West Shrine Game.

Instead, he showed the pros what he could do in live action.

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The former Northwestern quarterback threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless with 6 seconds remaining, lifting the East to a 13-10 victory 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 I 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 passing yards 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. Quarless 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.”

One play before the winning TD pass, Kafka was smothered and surrounded by pass rushers. Somehow, he managed to elude them and run 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. Texas’ Hunter Lawrence had a 47-yard field goal 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 Game has been played every year since 1925, but this was the first year that 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.”

East Carolina’s Van Eskridge, who was chosen as defensive MVP, intercepted Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing’s pass that hung in the air far too long in the second quarter. Wisconsin’s O’Brien Schofield intercepted a Hall throw earlier in the game.

Reesing, already dogged by some 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-of-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, a tight end who cut across the middle of a wide-open field. Two plays later, Hall 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 that 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.

Kafka 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. Kafka ducked his head, buckled his knees and prepared to be sacked before, somehow, slipping through the line for the run to set up the winning score and give the East a second consecutive victory.

“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 Scouting Combine, which will begin Feb. 24 in Indianapolis.

Said Reesing: “This was only the first of many interviews to come.”