MOBILE, Ala. — EJ Manuel’s January couldn’t have gone much better on the field. More importantly, he’s hoping for a similarly happy February for his family.
The Florida State quarterback passed for a touchdown and rushed for another on the South’s first two drives in a 21-16 victory over the North in the Senior Bowl on Saturday, and was named Most Outstanding Player.
Now, he can try to be the MOS — Most Outstanding Son. His mother, Jackie Manuel, who was diagnosed with breast cancer before the season, has been recovering from her final round of chemotherapy, and Manuel said she’s scheduled to have surgery on Feb. 1.
“That’s kind of been my motivation,” Manuel said. “I call my mom every single day and tell her I love her. I never miss a day.
“They’ll be sending that award home to her. I won that award for her. I went out there and played well for her. I’m happy I was able to do it.”
And even happier to return to her side in Virginia for a few days, instead of just squeezing in Skype and Facetime sessions.
It was a great finish for Manuel to a month that began with a 291-yard performance in an Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois.
Manuel and running backs Stepfan Taylor and Mike James combined to put the game for senior NFL prospects away on the South’s final drive. Stanford’s Taylor carried five times for 32 yards and caught a 6-yard pass from Manuel.
Manuel converted a fourth-and-1 play on a sneak to set up a 5-yard touchdown run for Miami’s James with 2:41 left. He completed 7 of 10 passes for 76 yards with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Alabama tight end Michael Williams. He also scored on a 2-yard run.
Brigham Young defensive end Ezekiel Ansah received MOP honors for the South team while Purdue defensive lineman Kawann Short was the North’s top player.
Miami, Ohio quarterback Zac Dysert answered with a scoring drive that ended with his 3-yard touchdown pass to Oregon running back Kenjon Barner with 23 seconds left. The two-point conversion and onside kick both failed.
Ansah is a native of Ghana who initially was on the track team and now is a potential first-round pick. He had seven tackles, 3.5 behind the line, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
“It was fun. I came out here to work hard, with a bunch of all-star players, obviously,” Ansah said. “Everyone out here is an MVP. I just came here to learn and get better.”
Short had three tackles, one for a loss.
Taylor finished with nine carries for 53 yards for the South.
Barner led all receivers with seven catches for 59 yards and gained 13 yards on three carries.
It was an up and down day for most of the quarterbacks.
Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson completed 8 of 11 passes for 40 yards for the South. Landry Jones, a four-year starter for Oklahoma, was 3-of-9 passing for 16 yards and was sacked twice.
For the North, Dysert was 10 of 16 for 93 yards and was intercepted once and sacked twice. North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon completed half his 16 attempts for 82 yards, and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib was 4 of 10 for 44 yards and threw an interception.
Southeastern Louisiana defensive back Robert Alford set up Manuel’s 2-yard run with an 88-yard return of the opening kick. Then Manuel lofted an over-the-shoulder pass to Williams in the end zone.
“The corner played the flat and big Mike ran a great route and got leverage on the linebacker,” Manuel said. “I thought it was a great matchup and I just threw the ball up there and he made a great catch.”
Williams converted another third-down play with a 19-yard catch on the drive.
Glennon and the North offense finally got things going to open the second half.
He completed all three of his pass attempts for 34 yards and then UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin, a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, closed the drive with a 12-yard run and a 20-yard touchdown on consecutive plays.
Manuel didn’t play again until the third quarter when he led the South across midfield. His fourth-down pass was deflected into the arms of Utah State defensive back Will Davis for an interception.
Davis returned it 25 yards and Glennon led the North deep enough to set up a 42-yard field goal by Oklahoma State’s Quinn Sharp to make it 14-10 with 3:28 left in the third quarter.
Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson continued his conversion to receiver. He lost 3 yards on a reverse but turned a screen pass from Nassib into a 14-yard gain late in the third quarter and added a 7-yard catch in the fourth.