A college student from Minnesota, who years ago nearly lost his ability to walk because of a deadly highway crash, threw enough footballs into a giant pop can during halftime of the Big Ten Championship football game to win a $100,000 scholarship.

Sawyer Stevens, a junior at the University of South Dakota, outdueled another contestant during the Dr Pepper 30-second showdown Saturday night inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Stevens, who is studying medical biology and physics, was seriously injured in a school bus crash nearly 10 years ago in Cottonwood, Minn.

Four children on the bus did not survive. One of them was Stevens' 12-year-old brother, Reed. The driver of a van that hit the bus, Olga Franco, was convicted and given a 12½-year sentence.

In making his pitch for a chance to compete for the scholarship, Stevens wrote to contest organizers, "I believe that true happiness lies in a life devoted to helping others. I am ... working towards becoming a neurosurgeon.

"As a child, I was severely wounded in a motor collision and saw firsthand how my surgeons gave me back the ability to walk and to live life again. My personal goal is to do the same for many others."

Stevens, 20, of Marshall, lit up Twitter immediately after his triumph by taking aim at the gaping hole in the can 5 yards away with a two-handed chest pass technique. Critics lambasted him for not taking the traditional approach to throwing a football.

"Seriously, can we outlaw the chest pass? This is football," read one tweet.

Another tweeter suggested giving the money to Stevens' opponent, who chose the one-handed, overhand form: "At least she knows how to throw a football."

Stevens did have a few defenders, including one person on Twitter who wrote, "Are shovel passes legal? If so, stop complaining about the Dr Pepper giveaway needing to make them throw the pass 'properly.' Properly is whatever way is best in the situation."

The same competition was staged at the other four major conference championship games this season. The Pac-12 winner also chose the chest pass.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482