Gruber nets pair of tackles at Medal of Honor Bowl

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Inside linebacker Michael Gruber had two tackles on Saturday afternoon, representing Brevard College at the Medal of Honor Bowl at The Citadel’s Johnson Hagood Stadium.


Gruber was one of a dozen Division II players invited to participate in the all-star contest, which is in its second year. There were 102 participants between the two teams, including 75 from the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision ranks.


Gruber’s American Team played with a 4-3 defensive scheme as Gruber rotated with Georgia Southern’s Edwin Jackson at the middle linebacker position. He was limited in his tackling opportunities by the National Team’s tendency to run quick passing plays to the sideline.


Midway through the fourth quarter, Gruber was one of two players who brought down former Iowa running back Brandon Wegher for a six-yard gain on a run up the middle. Two plays later, he combined with another defender to tackle Miami quarterback Ryan Williams for a three-yard pickup.


The Medal of Honor Bowl represented Gruber’s second opportunity to impress scouts from the NFL, Canadian Football League, and various arena leagues this postseason. Gruber was the leading tackler in last month’s FCS National Bowl in Miami with 11 stops before practicing and performing before over 100 scouts this week in the high-profile all-star contest for draft-eligible seniors.


In addition to Gruber’s inclusion on the roster, head coach Paul Hamilton was invited to coach the American Team’s running backs. Tony Creecy led a quintet of running backs that combined to gain 77 yards on 21 rushes. The N.C. State product ran nine times for 44 yards to average 4.9 yards per carry. Hamilton’s father Rusty coached the offensive line, giving the American Team’s rushing attack a unique connection.


The National Team prevailed in the contest by a score of 26-14. A pair of former South Carolina Gamecocks provided the highlights for the Nationals. Speedy wide receiver Damiere Byrd hauled in an 11-yard touchdown from Williams, who selected as the team’s most valuable player, late in the third quarter to put the National Team ahead 16-14.


After Air Force’s Will Conant split the uprights on a 36-yard field goal on his fourth successful kick of the night, South Carolina safety Brison Williams picked off a pass by Boston College product Tyler Murphy and returned it 52 yards for another score. Williams’ pick-six and the Nationals’ suffocating defense, which allowed just 211 total yards, effectively dashed any hope of an American Team fourth quarter comeback.


Coastal Carolina outside linebacker Quinn Backus was named the Americans’ most valuable player after the consensus All-American returned a second-quarter interception 87 yards for a score.


Although he wasn’t honored with an MVP designation, National Team defensive end Shaq Riddick, a West Virginia product, may have had the most dominant performance of any player in the contest. Riddick had four tackles, half of which came on sacks that led to a combined loss of 15 yards. He also forced and recovered a fumble, had three solo tackles among his four stops, and was credited with a quarterback hurry.

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