MOBILE, Ala. – Christian Ponder heads to the pros on a high note, after all. And he got a little help from a college rival.
The Florida State quarterback threw two touchdown passes, including a clinching 23-yarder to TCU's Jeremy Kerley in the South's 24-10 Senior Bowl victory over the North on Saturday.
Ponder completed 7 of 13 passes for 132 yards, including several big ones to Leonard Hankerson of Miami, and the final TD with 3:04 left.
Ponder was looking for a happier transition to an NFL career after missing the ACC championship game with an elbow injury and most of the Seminoles' bowl game thanks to a concussion. Ponder led scoring drives on the South's first two possessions and put on the finishing touches after the North rallied from a 17-0 deficit.
"I thought I definitely ended on a good note and hopefully my draft status has gone up a little bit," said Ponder, the game's MVP.
Hankerson had 100 yards on five catches, including an 18-yard touchdown and a 48-yarder to set up another score — both from Ponder. He also caught a 14-yarder on the clinching drive, capped by Kerley's second catch.
"It was a little double-move," Ponder said. "(Kerley) was wide-open, ran a great route. He won by alignment. They had outside leverage on him, he cut inside and scored."
Washington quarterback Jake Locker, likely among the first passers drafted, led a touchdown drive but also had offensive linemen save him by falling on two fumbles for the North in an uneven performance.
Ponder was the first FSU quarterback to beat Miami twice since Gary Huff in 1971 and 1972, but relied heavily on a former Hurricanes standout from the outset.
On the game's opening play from scrimmage, he hooked up on a 48-yarder to Hankerson, who bobbled it before coming down with the ball. Ponder also ran for two first downs on the drive, which ended with a field goal by LSU's Josh Jasper.
Ponder then hit Hankerson — who made a nice comeback move to get open — for an 18-yard touchdown on drive No. 2. Hankerson followed up nicely on one of the best seasons by a Miami receiver, becoming the third to gain 1,000 yards in a season and breaking Michael Irvin's school mark with 13 touchdown catches.
"I feel like I helped myself a lot by coming here, being focused, getting in the playbook, making plays for the team and just having fun," Hankerson said.
Hankerson was the South offensive MVP and Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller took defensive honors.
Texas defensive lineman Sam Acho (South) and North Carolina defensive back Kendrick Burney (North) were named the most outstanding players for the teams.
Locker completed 6 of 10 passes for 98 yards to lead the North. Ricky Stanzi from Iowa was 7-for-12 passing for 87 yards.
Louisville's Bilal Powell was the leading rusher with 50 yards on 10 carries.
While Ponder & Co. clicked early, the North didn't have a first down until Stanzi's 27-yard pass to Wisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks in the final two minutes of the first half.
The North finally got going in the second half.
Nevada's Colin Kaepernick flashed both his throwing and running skills on the North's first scoring drive, in the third quarter. He completed three passes to Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher and had an 8-yard run to set up Kai Forbath's 24-yard field goal.
Then Maryland's Da'Rel Scott scored on a 1-yard run with 19 seconds left in the third after the North got first-and-goal on a pass interference call in the end zone to aid the Locker-led drive and make it 17-10.
Locker had completions of 15 and 34 yards, but also was saved for the second time by an offensive line when he fumbled trying to run with it.
Locker completed only one of his three attempts on the North's first two drives for a 2-yard gain and a matching loss on a screen pass. He overthrew an open Kendricks across the middle on his first attempt but was more on target later.
"I thought we got in a little better rhythm, were able to move the ball, got our running game working a little bit better," Locker said. "And it allowed us to put some points on the board."