LeGrand-inspired Rutgers wins Pinstripe Bowl 27-13
NEW YORK—All year long Eric LeGrand inspired Rutgers from his wheelchair.
How could the Scarlet Knights ever slack off when their former teammate stayed so positive, was so sure he could overcome a devastating spinal injury and one day walk again?
After Rutgers completed its season with a 27-13 victory over Iowa State in the Pinstripe Bowl on Friday, it was time for the Scarlet Knights to thank LeGrand.
"Hey Big E! Hey Big E!" coach Greg Schiano shouted into the microphone as he stood at midfield at Yankee Stadium with the bowl trophy and pointed toward the press box. "This one's for you buddy."
LeGrand, paralyzed after making a tackle during a game last season, was shown on the huge video scoreboard while Schiano spoke -- busting out a wide grin.
"My heart kind of jumped because I wasn't expecting it," LeGrand told the AP in a phone interview.
He then went to the locker room and celebrated his friends. He said he even did a little shoulder dancing.
"That's our brother before and after the injury, and that's how we're going to treat him forever," Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene said. "Just having his presence around, it's amazing. He makes the locker room glow."
On the field, a couple of redshirt freshmen lit it up for the Scarlet Knights. Brandon Coleman hauled in an 86-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter after Iowa State trimmed the lead to 20-13, and Jawan Jamison ran for 131 yards and two scores on 27 carries.
"That's what we love to do. That's who we want to be," Schiano said about a running game that struggled much of the season, but seems to be in good hands going forward.
The Scarlet Knights (9-4) ran their bowl winning streak to five and improved to 2-0 this season at Yankee Stadium, where they beat Army last month. Rutgers, which played in one bowl game before 2005, is 5-1 in the postseason under Schiano.
The Cyclones (6-7) finished on a three-game losing streak, their last win coming Nov. 18 in Ames, Iowa, when they pulled off the biggest upset of the season against Oklahoma State.
That night Jared Barnett threw for 376 yards. In this game, Steele Jantz, who started the first six games, relieved Barnett in the second quarter and helped pull the Cyclones to 20-13 in the fourth on Jeff Woody's 20-yard touchdown run with 10 minutes left.
"We were not executing in a manner that I felt was going to lead us to a win, and from what we've seen in December's practices, made the switch," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said about the quarterbacks.
After an exchange of punts left Rutgers deep in its own end, Chas Dodd went deep to Coleman. The 6-foot-6 Coleman went over 5-7 cornerback Jeremy Reeves, then outran the corner to the end zone to make it 27-13 with 5:47 left.
It was Coleman's only catch, but it turned out to be the play of the game.
"I didn't go out there trying to make a play. I just went out there trying to do my job," Coleman said. "The number was called but I was still calm, cool and collected."
Rutgers grabbed a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter when Jamison powered through a tackler and scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1. On the next possession, Iowa State couldn't handle one of Rutgers' many blitzes, and Greene and Wayne Warren swarmed and stripped Barnett. Scott Vallone scooped up the fumble and returned it 12 yards to the Iowa State 4. The Cyclones managed to hold Rutgers to San San Te's 21-yard field goal.
Jantz replaced Barnett on the next Iowa State series.
The Cyclones didn't hold up as well on Rutgers' next possession. The Scarlet Knights marched 66 yards, 49 on the ground, and Jamison juked his way into the end zone from 12 yards out to make 17-6.
Justin Francis finished Rutgers' strong second half by blocking Zach Guyer's 44-yard field- goal attempt with 57 seconds left.
Iowa State jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first quarter, with Guyer kicking field goals of 40 and 46 yards on the Cyclones' first two possessions. Inaccurate throws by Barnett were key to stalling each drive.
The redshirt freshman was 2 for 7 before giving way to Jantz, who was 15 for 31 for 197 yards and ran for 36 yards.
"Most of it falls on the offense not executing and not what they did," Jantz said. "Not to take away anything from them because they have a great defense, but then again it ultimately comes back to me because I run the offense."
The Scarlet Knights missed the postseason last year for the first time since 2004, but rebounded this season to challenge for the Big East title behind a defense that came in ranked 14th in the nation.
Greene led the charge Friday with 13 tackles, three for losses, before being carted off in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. The junior was on crutches after the game and said he thinks he'll be OK in the long run.
Just like LeGrand.
"To have him in the locker room right now with all his buddies, that's special," Schiano said. "That's his senior class."
After Schiano made his short postgame speech, the fans in Yankee Stadium chanted "Eric! Eric!"
"Honestly, this was picture perfect," LeGrand said. "The only thing that would have made it better is if it could have run out there with them."