After both teams struggled to establish any type of passing rhythm in Saturday's sixth annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl, East head coach Tedd Ginn Sr.'s second half game plan was pretty simple-give the ball to the nation's No. 1 ranked running back and let him grind it out.
When it was all said and done, Akron (Ohio) Garfield running back Chris Wells carried the East squad to a 27-16 victory over the West in front an Army Game record 31,565 in the San Antonio Alamo Dome. Wells finished with 67 yards on 13 carries, including an Army game record three touchdowns.
Wells' 67 yards rushing ranks as the third most yardage in game history, only behind current Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson (91 yards) and North Carolina State running back Darrell Blackman (81).
His performance ranks one yard better than both Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and current Florida State running back Lorenzo Booker.
Most of Wells' damage came in the second half, where he had nine carries for 50 yards and two key red zone touchdowns that put the game away.
"That was one of our weapons that we were going to use," Ginn said. "We were going to see if they wanted to play all night, so we pounded them.
"Chris is a physical runner. He's got a whole lot of upside to him."
All week, the East team had to hear how dominating the West defensive line of Kilgore (Texas) defensive end Eddie Jones, Oklahoma City (Okla.) Southeast defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Elton (La.) defensive tackle Al Woods has looked.
Ginn said he challenged his linemen and said they were going to have to raise their play another notch to run the ball on the West.
"We kind of took that personally," Ginn Sr. said. "So we concentrated on that all week. We finished up every day in practice inside the 20 to make sure we could pound somebody."
At one point, the game was tied a 7-7 midway through the third quarter and it appeared the West was about to take momentum.
The East was pinned on their own 7 yard line with third-and-27. East quarterback Tim Tebow took the snap out of the end zone and avoided an unblocked McCoy and connected with USC commit Vidal Hazelton for a 58-yard completion.
"I just threw it down there to Vidal (Hazelton) and he just came down and made a play," Tebow said. "It was amazing."
West head coach Jim Rackley said Tebow's 58-yard completion to Hazelton was the straw that broke the camel's back.
"That really hurt us," Rackley said. "Then of course the blocked field for a touchdown was big. If we make that, we're down seven and still in the game."
The other play Rackley was referring to came midway in the fourth quarter when the West had a first-and-10 on the 22. The West offense was unable to covert and Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame kicker Kai Forbath's 40-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Michigan commit Brandon Graham.
The block by Graham was scooped up defensive back Raeshon McNeil for a 65-yard touchdown that put the East up 27-10 and more or less closed the door on the West.
Most of the struggles for the West were at quarterback. Springdale (Ark.) signal caller Mitch Mustain took a majority of the snaps for the West and finished a disappointing 2-of-13 for -2 yards.
"I played like crap," Mustain said. "We just had a hard time adjusting to everything. The line had trouble with all the pressure and we couldn't make the adjustments."
"That's key in football. You have to be able to adjust to that and I wasn't able to do that. I just didn't have a very good feel for my arm. I couldn't really tell what was going on with that. I had a really hard time adjusting to feeling the pressure from the defense."
The lone offensive bright spot for the West was Stephenville (Texas) quarterback Jevan Snead, who finished 7-of-16 for 133 yard and two touchdowns.
The Longhorn commit connected with Orange (Texas) West Stark wide receiver Deon Beasley for a 22-yard touchdown in the second quarter and to Long Beach (Calif.) Poly wide receiver Terrence Austin for nine-yard score late in the fourth.
"I'm happy with what I was able to get done out there," Snead said. "But we just couldn't get going."
Defensively, the East was led by Middle Village (N.Y.) Christ the King defensive end Maurice Evans, who had two sacks. Pomfret (M.D.) McDonough cornerback A.J. Wallace also had the game's only interception for the East.
The West was led by McCoy, who had a two sacks and a forced fumble and by Dallas Woodrow Wilson linebacker Sergio Kindle, who had a game-high five tackles.
The East's 27-16 victory over the West ties up the all-time series in U.S. Army All-American Bowl at 3-3.