Five takeaways from the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

2) Dixon, Ezzard matchup nightmares in the making? Dai’Jean Dixon and Jequez Ezzard’s American team might have come up short on Saturday, but the receiver tandem made their big-play potential known throughout the contest. Dixon, a three-time first-team All-Southland selection at Nicholls State, finished with a game-high 131 yards and a touchdown catch on six receptions, including a 47-yarder that helped set up a field goal. His 11-yard TD grab in the second quarter served as the perfect snapshot of Dixon’s steady hands and toughness. As for Ezzard, a dangerous combination of speed and balance made the Sam Houston State wideout a tough cover on both offense and special teams. With 41 receiving yards, a TD catch and 42 return yards to his name, it’s no wonder Ezzard was named first-team All-WAC as a receiver and returner in 2021.

3) QB platoon nearly paces American team to win. Cal QB Chase Garbers earned top billing coming into Saturday’s game, but Alabama A & M’s Aqeel Glass made sure scouts recognized his name and game by the end of the night. Garbers quickly made up for a lost fumble by TE Jake Tonges – his fellow Cal alum – on the game’s opening series with a 14-play, 75-yard TD drive to get the American squad on board first. Glass would follow that with a six-play, 68-yard scoring drive of his own on the team’s next possession. Both QBs displayed solid pocket awareness and nice touch despite having to rotate in and out of the lineup. Glass, the two-time SWAC and HBCU Offensive Player of the Year, finished 9 of 11 for 141 yards while Garbers finished 10 of 13 for 119 yards, to go with two rushes for 25 yards.

4) Timely takeaway. An early 14-0 hole had the National defense on its heels, but credit Rod Woodson’s bunch – yes, the Hall of Fame defensive back served as Lewis’ defensive coordinator at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl – for regrouping in the second half. The defense’s signature moment came near the end of the third quarter, when Ole Miss defensive end Sam Williams forced a fumble by Toledo RB Bryant Koback, which was recovered by Miami linebacker Zach McCloud. The play paved the way for the aforementioned Kelley-to-Kern TD connection. Both McCloud and Williams made their presence known on a number of run stuffs and tackles for loss, but this game might have turned out much differently if not for the turnover.

5) Closing kick. With the American team trailing by a point on the game’s final possession, Glass and Co. darted their way down the field in the final four minutes to get within field goal range, setting the stage for Illinois’ James McCourt to attempt a would-be game-winning field goal. McCourt, who nailed a 24-yarder earlier in the night, needed to convert from nearly double that distance (46 yards) to leave the hero. Unfortunately for the third-team All-Big Ten selection, his attempt sailed wide left, resulting in a devastating finish for Fisher’s team and a narrow victory for Lewis’ squad.

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