The 2022 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl went down on Saturday afternoon and NFL hopefuls from around the country got the chance to showcase their talents. While the contest features players from all levels of college football, it was the kids from FCS schools that stole the show in Pasadena.
It was clear early on who all the eyes were going to be on. Dai’Jean Dixon, coming out of Nicholls, hauled in a big 24-yard pass in the opening quarter and helped the American Team on a lengthy scoring drive. It was Jequez Ezzard (Sam Houston), though, that brought in the game’s first touchdown, a 13-yd strike from quarterback Chase Garbers. Ezzard, who also got the chance to showcase his punt return abilities, would add a few more catches as the game went on.
South Dakota State’s Chris Oladokun got the start for the National Team at quarterback but threw an interception on his third snap of the game. On his second series, Oladokun got sacked by Missouri State's Eric Johnson on third down and was unable to produce much on offense before he was substituted out.
On the defensive side, Florida A&M’s Markquese Bell was all over the place early on and made tackle after tackle. Bell is considered by many to be one of the top HBCU products in the nation and he certainly made his presence felt in the first quarter.
Another HBCU standout, Aqeel Glass (Alabama A&M), took over at quarterback for the American Team and threw a touchdown to Dixon. Midway through the second quarter there had only been two touchdowns and both had gone to FCS receivers.
Cole Kelley, the Southeastern Louisiana product, came in for Oladokun and, with the aid of Sacred Heart running back Julius Chestnut, led the National Team down for a field goal before halftime. Kelley completed eight of his 12 pass attempts on the drive for 67 yards on a possession that ate up over nine minutes.
Glass was able to stay in as the head signal caller early in the third quarter and wasted no time looking to Dixon again. After a quick first down snag, Dixon got underneath a 47-yard bomb that set up a field goal for the American Team.
The National Team finally got some offensive momentum going when Montana State wideout Lance McCutcheon hauled in a long pass of his own. The 31-yard catch paved way for a score that drew the team to within seven.
Kelley would re-enter the game shortly after on the heels of a fumble recovery and it only took him two plays to tie the game. He completed a pass over the middle to Oklahoma tight end Blake Kern for the long touchdown to put a bow on his impressive day.
Jacksonville State quarterback Zerrick Cooper would get playing time for the American Team as the fourth quarter began while Oladokun would return on the other side. Neither QB, however, was able to get a drive going and the teams traded field position via punts.
Dixon added to his big day when he caught a 27-yard pass thanks to a beautiful sideline adjustment to move the chains. In all he finished the game with six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Kelley again put together a scoring drive as the clock wound down. Thanks to another big catch by McCutcheon that kept the possession alive, the National Team got their chance to take the lead on a two-point try. Kelley rolled out on a play action pass to give his squad a 25-24 advantage. Kelley's final stats were 12 completions on 17 attempts for 150 yards and a touchdown.
Glass, though, had one last gasp for the American Team and marched their unit down the field. He completed one more pass to Ezzard on the final drive that ended in a field goal attempt. The try missed and the National team won. Glass finished with 141 yards on nine completions and had a touchdown of his own.
There’s no doubt that several of the FCS' playmakers that got their invite made the most of it. Getting to play for Marvin Lewis and Jeff Fisher was big in its own right but for guys like Dixon, Kelley and Ezzard to have the performances they had? NFL teams may be more apt to pick up the phone in a few months and make the call.