LaMark Brown shares a school with the 1990s sitcom "Coach" - only his Minnesota State football team's mascot is the Mavericks, not Screaming Eagles. When he says that Mankato, Minn., is "a lot like Manhattan," he means the city in Kansas and not the Big Apple.
Brown is a good player from a small program with an uncertain future. His NFL dreams are, to be kind, a crapshoot.
But he'll always have Monday night.
Brown caught the game-winning touchdown from San Jose State's Matt Faulkner with 22 seconds remaining, and the Stripes team rallied to defeat the Stars 24-21 in the first Casino del Sol College All-Star Game, held in front of 7,839 at Kino Stadium. The college football showcase started slow but finished frenetically: Brown's catch was the third lead change in the final 6 minutes 53 seconds, and came moments before he took - and absorbed - a crushing blow from a Stars defender.
"All I saw was the ball, and I knew I had to catch it because it was late in the game," Brown said. "After, I got mobbed. I was trying to fight everybody off so I could get my breath back.
"I'm excited I could get the game won for us."
The victory sent the Stripes, featuring five Arizona Wildcats and run by former college coaches Pat Hill, Dick Tomey and Ron McBride, to a surprising victory despite a rocky start.
The Stars took a 14-0 lead behind a 1-yard touchdown run from Tulsa quarterback C.J. Kinne and a 9-yard pass from his backup, LSU's Jarrett Lee to William & Mary's Alex Gottlieb. The Stripes climbed back in, scoring when Colorado's Rodney Stewart plunged in a 1-yard score on the final play of the first half. A field goal late in the third quarter made it a four-point game.
The Stripes then turned to their not-so-secret weapon, Zac Dickey, to take the lead. The hybrid quarterback/running back from Division II National Champion Pittsburg (Kan.) State used a pair of runs to get deep in Stripes territory midway through the fourth quarter. His 2-yard run capped a 14-play, 86-yard drive and gave the Stripes their first lead of the night.
Lee then pulled the Stars ahead, leading a 10-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Sacred Heart University's Rich Rossi.
With 3:11 left on the clock and trailing by four points, Faulkner - San Jose State's best player last fall - went to work. He moved the Stripes past midfield, then found UA receiver Gino Crump for nine yards on a key fourth-and-5.
Crump's catch, one of his six for 45 yards, gave the team first-and-10 from the 13 with 43 seconds remaining. Faulkner missed on his next three pass attempts, setting up fourth-and-10 from the 13 with 0:30 left.
With the game on the line, the Stripes got creative. Both of the team's outside receivers lined up at tight end on fourth down, and Brown ran a seam route to the end zone. Lined up against a Stars linebacker, Brown merely had to catch the ball and hold on.
He was named the game's offensive MVP.
The heroics could help Brown, a 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound receiver who transferred to Minnesota State from Kansas State, earn a longer look from NFL teams. Brown shared a locker with Arizona Wildcats linebacker Paul Vassallo all week.
"He's a big dude," Vassallo said. "He can play tight end, too."
Tucson's first-ever college all-star game had a local flavor. UA cornerback Robert Golden registered the game's lone interception, and Crump had more catches and yards than anybody on the opposing team.
Mohammed Usman, a former Wildcats defensive end who's trying to make it as a linebacker, made a key tackle on a kickoff return.
And, just when the game threatened to take another turn, a ball found Aaron Tevis. The Boise State linebacker and former Canyon del Oro High School star sealed the game when the Stripes' final kickoff went just 5 feet, hit a Stars player, and bounced right into Tevis' hands.
Tevis, playing special teams, made the easiest play of the night.
"I figured," he said, "'I better jump on that.'"
Box score / B5