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Archive for Sunday, January 19, 2003

Walton’s 99-yard return keys victory

Interception of Simms’ pass, stifling defense help North cruise to 17-0 triumph in Senior Bowl

January 19, 2003

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— Shane Walton only needed to touch the ball once to make the biggest play.

The Notre Dame defensive back returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to help the North win the Senior Bowl, 17-0, Saturday.

"Anytime a cornerback touches the ball, his goal is to get into the end zone," said Walton, who returned two of his seven interceptions for touchdowns as a senior. "You don't get the ball too much."

Walton outshined some of college football's biggest offensive names, picking off Texas quarterback Chris Simms' pass at the goal line and racing untouched down the left sideline with 9:13 left.

It was the longest return in Senior Bowl history, topping Fred Weary's 97-yarder in 1998.

Penn State's Larry Johnson carried 13 times for a game-high 59 yards for the North and was selected the game's MVP.

The South's offense was mostly done in by mistakes, with three turnovers and a missed field goal keeping the North's shutout intact.

The defense, led by Walton and Penn State's Michael Haynes, did what nobody could during the regular season: contain Simms, Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer of Southern California and Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury, the nation's leading passer.

"It was really a fun game," said Haynes, the North's defensive MVP. "As far as the offensive line for the South, they were getting a little frustrated. They were running so far out to catch me, so I was coming underneath."

The game is a showcase for top senior NFL prospects, but Kingsbury still had trouble swallowing the final score.

"You never like to lose," said Kingsbury, who threw for 5,017 yards in the regular season and 29 on Saturday. "I haven't been shut out since about the eighth grade, so I'm not used to that.

"We were rotating in and out and we never really got a rhythm and that's part of these games."

Simms took over at the North 21 after TCU's LaMarcus McDonald recovered a botched snap. The South advanced to the eight before Walton stepped in front of a pass intended for Talman Gardner of Florida State.

Walton was irked by all the hype surrounding the South team.

"That's what really got us. We felt like we've got talent, too," he said.

Colorado State's Cecil Sapp scored on an eight-yard run and Brooks Barnard of Maryland kicked a 22-yard field goal for the North. Barnard's kick capped a drive that lasted nearly eight minutes, ending with 2:45 left in the third.

Palmer led the South into North territory on the first three series, coming up empty each time. He underthrew a pass in the end zone on fourth down on the first possession, and Damon Duval missed a 45-yard field goal on the second.

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