ST. PETERSBURG — With less than a week to install a playbook, offenses can have it tough in college showcase games.
And for 58 minutes on Saturday in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field, the teams combined for just one offensive touchdown.
But Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek converted a fourth down with two minutes to play, then threw a 34-yard score to Houston receiver Steven Dunbar, rallying the West to a 14-10 victory in the game for college seniors.
"All these games are always low-scoring because you can’t get your timing down," Shimonek said. "Anytime I’m playing a game, I’m competing and trying to win. This was fun, and it’s a good way to end it."
Dunbar, who had three 100-yard games in his final four games at Houston, came down with an over-the-shoulder catch and knocked over the pylon with his knee in the game’s biggest highlight.
"We had a lot of ups and downs, ran the ball pretty well but couldn’t really connect on the passing game," Dunbar said. "He gave me a good ball and I just made the catch."
The game drew an announced 21,700 for its seventh straight appearance at Tropicana Field, down slightly from an announced 22,198 a year ago. One of the top draws, USF quarterback Quinton Flowers, had to miss the game when his grandmother died late in the week.
The West led 7-0 early on a defensive touchdown, as Delaware’s Bilal Nichols sacked Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett to force a fumble that Wisconsin safety Natrell Jamerson returned 68 yards for a touchdown.
The East took the lead late in the third quarter, as Barrett converted fourth and 1 with a keeper to the 5-yard line to set up a patchwork touchdown.
The East team had 13 players sidelined with various injuries, and midway through the week, Slippery Rock defensive end Marcus Martin — who set an NCAA all-divisions record with 56 career sacks — offered himself up as a fullback, having last played offense in high school.
"I said, ‘Let me get in there at fullback. I like to hit people,’?" Martin said. "I had a couple of late nights learning the playbook. The exact play I scored on, we ran in practice. It was an amazing experience. It’s something I’ll take to the grave."
Barrett had a quiet game overall, going 5-for-13 for 69 yards. The East defense had pitched a shutout, recovering a fumbled snap when the West had gotten to the 11-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
The West drove from its 30-yard line in the final 5:32, with Shimonek converting on third and 8 then on fourth and 5 to keep the drive alive, setting up the touchdown to Dunbar.
Shimonek, who didn’t become a starter until his senior year but threw for 3,963 yards and 33 touchdowns for Texas Tech this season, easily had the best game of the five quarterbacks, finishing 12-for-18 for 105 yards, with twice as many completions as any other passer.
"I felt like I had a great week," he said.
"This game is obviously more than just football, with everything that we do with the Shriners Hospital."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.