PASADENA, Calif. -- Defense ruled in a game meant to showcase potential NFL players, and LSU defensive tackle Frank Herron and Penn State linebacker Troy Apke delivered the final blows.
The 312-pound Herron returned a fumble for a late touchdown and Apke had an interception while earning MVP honors, helping the National team stifle the American team 23-0 in the NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
"I knew from the first time we put on pads, this defense was going to be special,'' said National coach Mike Martz, now 4-0 in the game.
The game was scoreless at halftime before the National team pulled away. Stanford fullback Daniel Marx followed an American fumble with a 1-yard touchdown run, and Washington State kicker Erik Powell connected on a 22-yard field goal. Apke then returned an interception 56 yards to set up Howard's Anthony Philyaw for a 12-yard TD run.
A couple of minutes later, Herron scooped up a fumble by Texas A&M-Commerce quarterback Luis Perez and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown with 3:07 left.
"Defensively, they were awesome the entire game,'' Martz said. "We tried to leave as simple as we could, they could just play quick and not think too much, teach them technique they're going to need in the NFL.''
The National team has won all seven Collegiate Bowls, held for the first time this year at the Rose Bowl after six years at the StubHub Center. The game is meant to highlight players on the bubble of the NFL draft for scouts and teams.
"Our defense was stellar,'' American coach Darrell Green said. "Our quarterbacks just never got comfortable. They were never able to really seize command.''
The American offense outgained the National team 288 yards to 215 but was undone by four lost fumbles and Apke's interception.
"The chemistry we had was incredible,'' Apke said. "Sometimes you don't get that on teams that have been together two or three years. I built relationships here that will last a lifetime.''
The second-half offense for the National team helped erase the sting of a scoreless first half that included eight punts, three turnovers and three missed field goal attempts.
"I was very, very frustrated,'' Martz said. "There were some things out there that I didn't adjust to.''
The American team played without a true field goal kicker and was forced to use Eastern Washington punter Jordan Dascalo on kicks. He missed on field goals of 43, 27 and 24 yards.
"We asked him to place kick,'' Green said. "He's talented, but that was a little unfair. We eventually went away from kicking field goals all together and that hurt our momentum.
"In retrospect, I feel bad for him.''
American running back Martez Carter of Grambling State led all rushers with 45 yards on 10 carries.
"Carter did a good job,'' Green said. "Sometimes people kind of put you in a box because you come from a Division II school. I came from a D-II school (Texas A&I). He'll be in the NFL.''
Likewise, Martz said he had nearly a dozen players on his National team he thought were NFL bound.
"I think (Toledo quarterback Logan) Woodside is going to play in the NFL,'' Martz said. "He's further along than any quarterback we've had at this time. Ten or 11 guys are not just going to make teams, they're going to play.''
Penn State's Troy Apke takes home MVP honors in Collegiate Bowl