Originally created 12/26/96

Blue defeats Gray in 58th Christmas classic



MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Calvin Branch never considered himself a second-string player. So when it looked as if he would be backing up Troy Davis at Iowa State, he went elsewhere.

And his decision to transfer to Colorado State never looked better than it did Wednesday when Branch ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns and was honored as the Most Valuable Player in the Blue's 44-34 win in the Blue-Gray Classic.

"When we came out of spring practice in 1995, coaches were saying Troy and I were No. 1 and 1a," Branch said of Davis, who surpassed the 2,000-yard-mark in two straight seasons with the Cyclones. "But I didn't think the idea of splitting time and playing for a losing team was going to get me anywhere. So I moved. Looking back, it was a great decision."

In an all-star game full of big plays, Branch was the no-glamour workhorse. His 12 carries included one 25-yard gain, but most were like his touchdown runs of 2 and 5 yards - modest, hard-running drives up the middle.

He may have lacked flash, but not so the rest of his team. Blue piled up 419 yards in offense and broke two touchdown plays of 60-plus yards.

The teams combined for 772 yards in total offense and set the record for most combined points in the 58th edition of the Christmas Day game, played before some 200 NFL scouts. Gray leads the series 30-27-1.

The first big play was a 70-yard touchdown pass from Fresno State's Jim Arellanes to Nathaniel Jacquet of San Diego State. It gave Blue a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and broke the record for longest touchdown pass, set in 1984 when Alabama running back Paul Carruth threw a 60-yard touchdown to Mississippi Valley State's Jerry Rice on a halfback option.

Jacquet, who moved from defensive back to receiver this year, made a big-time play, adjusting his route and jumping over his defender to snag the ball at the 30, then outrunning the Gray defense to the end zone.

"That was just a matter of seeing where it was and wanting it a little more," he said. "I think a catch like that helps me a lot."

Oregon's Tony Graziani also helped himself, especially in the second half. He finished 9-for-18 for 145 yards and hit his Ducks teammate, tight end Josh Wilcox, for a 63-yard touchdown pass to give Blue a 37-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.

"Josh is my teammate and a good friend of mine," said Graziani, who missed five games early in the season with an injured knee. "I hope I helped myself and did some good things. But no matter what, that touchdown pass is something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

Graziani led Blue on a 10-play, 80-yard drive to close the first half. Branch capped the drive with a 2-yard TD run to give his team a 24-14 lead. It closed a sloppy first half that included five turnovers, a dropped snap on a punt and a missed field goal.

In the second half, Gray quarterback Lance Funderburk took advantage of a Blue-Gray rule that allows the team losing by nine or more points to get the ball back after scoring in the last two minutes of the game.

"It was fun going out there with nothing to lose," Funderburk said. "I got a chance to pass the ball a lot at the end. I think they should put that rule in for the NCAA."

The senior from Division II Valdosta State hit Georgia's Juan Daniels for touchdown passes of 13 and 14 yards in the last two minutes as Gray cut a 44-21 deficit to 44-34 at the end.

Funderburk finished 13-for-30 for 179 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Both interceptions were by Missouri's Clayton Baker, the last coming on the Blue 8 with 17 seconds left.

Tulane's Jerald Sowell was the Gray MVP, leading the team with 53 yards rushing and four catches for 55 yards.

For the Blue, Arellanes went just 5-for-11 for 89 yards with one interception, which was returned 45 yards by Kentucky's Van Hiles for a touchdown, making it 14-14 in the second quarter.

Notre Dame's Robert Farmer, who was invited to the game after the Irish failed to make a bowl, broke a 20-yard run and finished with 32 yards on five carries.

Air Force quarterback Beau Morgan played most of the game at free safety. He also carried once for a 17-yard gain.