NCAA Football Challenge won by Clemson student from Lexington
While the best in college football players gathered next door for the Heisman Trophy reception, Michael Hawkins was engaged in a football game of his own. The Clemson senior from Lexington emerged victorious from the 2005 EA Sports NCAA Football Challenge in New York City with a check for $10,000 and a ticket to the Heisman Trophy presentation and dinner.
The NCAA Football Challenge is an annual video game tournament that pits the best gamers from 16 regions against each other in college football games. This year’s tournament was hosted in the ESPN skybox in Times Square on December 9 and coincided with the Heisman Trophy presentation.
Hawkins won the Clemson regional before progressing to the championship in New York. Hawkins placed second in last year’s tournament in Las Vegas, losing 41–14 in the championship round to FSU’s Jesse Hanninan. This year, however, a surprising upset in the first round of the tournament put Hanninan out of the game. Hawkins, on the other hand, beat players from Purdue and Maryland in order to advance to the finals, where he faced off against Penn State’s Dan Ward.
Both players chose a college team to play with – Hawkins picked the Texas Longhorns. Ward opted for USC Trojans.
“Almost everyone chooses to play with good teams like Texas or USC,” Hawkins said. “The only person to play with his college’s team was the player from Ohio State.”
The championship game was tight throughout. Spectators watched the game on television screens and a DJ called the game on a microphone as the two gamers battled it out in the first half. Hawkins was down by 12 in the third quarter, but a fumble by Ward and the Longhorn touchdown that followed brought the score to 28–24 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Both teams scored again in the fourth, and Hawkins was down 35–30 with 1:15 to go in the game. However, an 80–yard pass and a touchdown put Hawkins in the lead, and Ward wasn’t able to score again.
Hawkins believes the key to victory was his willingness to take risks. “I was prepared for anything,” Hawkins said. “I wasn’t afraid to take chances and play loosely.” He also said he appreciated his wife’s support, who cheered him on throughout the game.
Hawkins was awarded with a $10,000 check and a ticket to attend the Heisman trophy presentation and the exclusive Heisman dinner that occurred after the Challenge.