1st Annual Hansen Bowl Summary by Neil Malvone

Small college football players put on a big-time game at the 1st Annual Hansen Bowl played on January 16, 2012 at the Sports Complex in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The newly-created bowl featured All-American and All-Conference players from the NAIA, Division I-AA, Division II and Division III in a battle for small college all-star bragging rights.

The Hansen Bowl was named in honor of the late Don Hansen, a sports journalist who dedicated his life to the coverage and promotion of small college football. Don’s involvement in the area of small college football began in 1980 when he began to make predictions on all the small college football games and then send them out to newspapers across the nation. Soon, Football News asked him to rank the smaller college divisions (NCAA 1-AA, II, III and NAIA) along with providing his predictions for them.  Don also began selecting All-Americans for them to include in their publications.

Don created the Don Hansen’s National Weekly Football Gazette as a way to recognize the small college player. Don’s efforts led to these players being noticed by scouts from professional leagues ranging from the NFL, CFL and Europe. Now in his memory, the Hansen Bowl hopes to carry on that tradition. In keeping up the family tradition, Don’s two sons, Dave and Dan Hansen were on hand to lend their support and to relate tales of the time spent with their dad traveling the country watching small college football. Also in attendance was Sandy Burroughs, the widow of the late Craig Burroughs. Craig was the Gazette‘s national correspondent covering football for the paper throughout the United States and Canada.  By the end of the 2010 season he had covered 1,177 games.  Craig passed away this last November and small college football and the Hansen family lost a true friend. The Hansen Bowl committee has named its MVP in Craig’s memory.

With this backdrop, players from around the country arrived in Virginia Beach for three days of practice leading up to the game Monday afternoon. The weather conditions were perfect for football and the players did not disappoint their cheering fans as they put on quite a show. The Pony Express dressed in blue jumped out to a 9-0 lead behind field goals by Taylor Baskett.   Baskett would connect on three field goals in the game from distances of 33, 45 and 48 yards to account for all nine of his team’s points.   Baskett would earn the Hansen Bowl Special Teams Most Valuable Player honor for his three fields which accounted for his team’s only points of the afternoon.

The Pony Express entered the fourth quarter hanging on to that lead but the red-clad Riverboats finally began to get their offense rolling. Behind QB’s Adam Neugeberger of West Virginia Wesleyan and James Suozzo from Merrimack College, the RiverBoats scored two touchdowns in the final quarter.  The 21-yard pass from Adam Neugeberger to Lake Erie’s, Brandon James with 11 seconds gone by in the quarter was the first touchdown in Hansen Bowl history. The second touchdown came from Suozzo who found James Saros of Penn in the end zone for the go-ahead score.  The Pony Express squad would not go down without a fight however, as they went into their two-minute drill and drove down to the Riverboat 8 yard line. The tension mounted on both sides as players from both teams dug down deep in hopes of bringing victory and pride to their squads.  The first Hansen Bowl battle came  down to the last play when the Pony Express’ last gasp pass into the corner of the end zone  bounced off of a few players and hung in the air before falling harmlessly to the ground.

The Steamboats held on for a thrilling come from behind 14-9 victory before a crowd of over 1,500 cheering fans.  For his play, Neugeberger walked off with the Craig Burroughs trophy as MVP of the Hansen Bowl.  Defensive MVP honors went to the Pony Express’ Tim Hume of Cheney (PA) who registered two quarterback sacks for a loss of 16 yards, had a pair of solo hits, and caused disruption in the Riverboats backfield all game long.

Following the game, the players from both teams came together at midfield to congratulate and console each other. New friendships were forged during the three-day event and the players displayed true sportsmanship as they walked off the field to cheers from friends and family.  Ultimately, the final score didn’t matter because the true winner of the initial Hansen Bowl was small college football.

The Hansen Bowl Corporation has already confirmed they will be hosting the game again next year. Don Hansen would be so proud.


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