The weather threw a tornado watch and a decapitated tuba at the Medal of Honor Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
But a solid crowd of 5,135 spectators braved the elements to see the inaugural edition of the college football all-star game - won by coach Ralph Friedgen's American squad, 20-3 - and organizers say the Medal of Honor Bowl has a solid future in Charleston.
"I really feel that this bowl game, because of where it is and who we're honoring, has a chance to be the No. 1 college all-star game in the U.S.," said bowl chairman Tommy McQueeney, who deployed an army of volunteers to make the game happen 105 days from when it was announced.
Saturday's game capped off a week-long series of events, including a sold-out black-tie gala on Friday night honoring Medal of Honor recipients and benefiting the Medal of Honor Museum in Mount Pleasant.
More than 100 pro scouts and coaches attended practices during the week. Word of mouth from those scouts, agents and players will make a huge difference for the Medal of Honor Bowl going forward, said executive director Brian Woods.
"Because we were a first-year game, no one knew how this was going to run," Woods said. "No one knew what the NFL turnout would be. But if you came out to practice and saw the scouts ringing the field, if you saw how the players were treated this week, people know this is a legitimate event. Overall, I'm extremely pleased with the way this has turned out."
Next on the agenda - a TV deal and a title sponsor for the game. McQueeney says both will be in place by next year's game.
On Saturday, wind gusts up to 40 mph and a tornado watch made it difficult on both teams' offenses. Florida receiver Solomon Patton, a 5-9, 180-pound speedster, was the American team MVP with one carry for 33 yards on a reverse, and three catches for 50 yards. He set up all three of his team's touchdowns, two of them scored by running back D.J. Adams of Portland State.
"This whole week was a lot of fun, meeting all these guys and being able to play for these coaches," Patton said. "This wasn't the game I was expecting to be playing in, but I took advantage of it and I thank them for inviting me."
The National team MVP was linebacker Deon Furr of Fort Valley State. The 6-2, 223-pounder made six tackles with half a sack and a pass break-up. Citadel cornerback Brandon McCladdie, who started for the American team, had two tackles and broke up a pass.
The windy conditions were hard on quarterbacks. For the American squad, Danny O'Brien of Catawba hit 5 of 11 passes for 87 yards, including a 61-yard bomb to Jeremy Butler of Tennessee-Martin in the final minutes. Joe Clancy of Merrimack was 4 of 10 for 88 yards.
For coach Chan Gailey's National team, Casey Pachall of TCU was 8 of 15 for 54 yards, and Corey Robinson of Troy was 7 of 10 for 65 yards.
"It was tough going into the wind," said O'Brien. "I was telling the other quarterbacks to hurry up or slow down, so I could go with the wind. I think every completion I had was going that way."
Patton's 33-yard run with a reverse set up the American squad's first TD, on a 1-yard run by O'Brien. Patton caught a 26-yard pass to set up Adams' 19-yard TD run for a 13-3 lead in the second quarter. And Patton's 15-yard catch led to Adams' second TD, a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
The National team's only points came on a 40-yard field goal by Drew Basil of Ohio State in the second quarter.
Before the game, Charleston's own Medal of Honor recipient, Maj. Gen. James Livingston, led a group of Medal of Honor recipients and Wounded Warrior veterans honored on the field, each accompanied by an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader. At halftime, South Carolina State's Marching 101 performed a patriotic medley.
After the game, American team players dumped water buckets on Friedgen and assistant coach Rusty Hamilton, a fitting end to the week.
"It was a great experience, one of the best in my life and definitely in my college career," said safety L.J. McCray of Catawba College. "I had a lot of fun and met a lot of new guys, a lot of great athletes. And they treated us well, a lot of fun things and team-bonding things."
O'Brien said the time spent with Medal of Honor recipients and Wounded Warriors made the game extra special.
"It was unbelievable, a first-time experience for me to meet men who are national treasures," he said. "It was very humbling to hear those guys talk. That part of the week was really awesome."
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