Blue Tops Gray 28-10

Wednesday, December 26th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ Forget the quarterbacks.

It was the defensive players who dictated play in the Blue's 28-10 victory at the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic on Tuesday.

Northwestern linebacker Kevin Bentley set up a touchdown with a first-quarter interception for the Blue and had 16 tackles. Algie Atkinson of Kansas returned a late fumble 11 yards for a score.

For the Gray, the star was Mississippi State defensive back Shawn Byrdsong, who batted down seven passes and had an interception.

On the other side of the ball, the short practice schedule clearly wasn't enough for the offenses to click.

``Offense takes a little time to get used to,'' said Gray running back Tyree Foreman of Virginia. ``You've got to come together and have a little continuity.

``A week's not enough time to get that. Some teams work all year and don't get that.''

The Gray squad turned the ball over five times, and none of the quarterbacks on either team reached 100 yards passing.

The defenses had no such trouble, with Bentley and Byrdsong earning MVP honors.

``We jelled as the week went on, almost as if we had been a team for a while here,'' Bentley said.

Byrdsong got a confidence boost early in his switch from safety to cornerback.

``The first play of the game they ran a hitch on me and I was on it,'' he said. ``I knew right then it was going to be a pretty good day.''

The Gray managed just one first down in its first three fourth-quarter possessions before Atkinson's score off Byrdsong's fumbled punt.

The Gray's opening drive of the final quarter ended with Foreman losing a fumble on fourth-and-2 from the Gray 42. The Blue's David Hills then missed a 30-yard field goal.

Of the four quarterbacks, only Alabama State's Darnell Kennedy (99 yards) and Virginia's John Welsh (91) approached 100 yards.

Penn State running backs Omar Easy and Eddie Drummond both had short touchdown runs, a nice finale to a topsy-turvy senior season. The Nittany Lions began 0-4 and missed a bowl game with a 5-6 record.

``This is a bowl game for me right here,'' said Easy, voted the Blue's outstanding offensive player with a team-high 49 yards rushing. ``It was fun. We meshed as a team from all over the country and came together for a win.''

Todd DeLamielleure of Hofstra shared defensive honors for the Blue with 10 tackles, one for a loss.

Foreman rushed for 56 yards to earn offensive honors for the Gray. Nate Morrow of Vanderbilt (15 tackles) was voted the team's top defensive player.

The Blue's Welsh completed eight of 19 passes, with one interception. David Neill of Nevada was 1-for-9 for 20 yards.

The Gray's Kennedy was 9-of-27 with an interception. Greg Zolman of Vanderbilt was 12-of-23 for 67 yards.

Byrdsong also had a punt return for a touchdown negated by penalty and fumbled his final attempt at a return. He was still happy with the MVP trophy _ providing he could get it home.

``That's sweet, man,'' Byrdsong said. ``I haven't had an MVP trophy in a while. It's a good feeling. I don't know how I'm going to get back on the plane with it. I'm going to get it there somehow.''

The game, pitting the North against the South, is for seniors whose schools were not playing in bowl games.

The teams combined for just 79 yards in the first quarter, but the Blue didn't need much more. It jumped ahead 14-0 in the first eight minutes, thanks partly to good field position.

First, the Blue took over at the Gray's 45 on a short punt, setting up Easy's score.

Bentley then returned an interception of Kennedy's pass 20 yards to the Gray 7, and Delvon Flowers of Arizona State vaulted into the end zone.

The Gray squad put together a pair of long second-quarter drives to make it 14-10 at halftime.

Foreman capped a 13-play, 84-yard march with a 2-yard run. A 15-play possession, set up by Byrdsong's interception, ended with a 32-yard field goal by Ryan White of Memphis.

The loss snapped the Gray's four-game winning streak.

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