College Football: Gophers win shootout on late field goal
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Jerry Kill walked into the locker room Saturday with his Gophers trailing Purdue by 11 points at halftime, he claimed to have no idea his team had never won when trailing at the half.
MINNEAPOLIS - When Jerry Kill walked into the locker room Saturday with his Gophers trailing Purdue by 11 points at halftime, he claimed to have no idea his team had never won when trailing at the half.
His players weren’t thinking about that, either.
So Minnesota’s fourth-year coach kept his cool. Didn’t scream. Didn’t curse anyone out, even though the defense, in particular, probably deserved it for playing embarrassing football.
“When I walked into the locker room, I said, ‘Hey, men, this is going to define who you are,’ “ Kill said. “ ‘Can you fight back from adversity? Can you fight back from some tough things? You’re going to do it your whole life? We’re going to find out what kind of team we are.’ “
Redshirt freshman Ryan Santoso missed an extra-point kick and got stopped on a two-point conversion run, but his 52-yard field goal with 4:59 remaining gave the Gophers a 39-38 win at TCF Bank Stadium.
That might have been the play of the game offensively. Defensively, senior safety Cedric Thompson pulled off a diving interception on Austin Appleby on Purdue’s final possession to seal Minnesota’s first win under Kill when losing at halftime.
Kill’s Gophers teams had been 0-22 when down at the half and 22-0 when leading or tied.
Those stats no longer define his team.
A 31-20 halftime deficit against Purdue (3-5, 1-3) wasn’t going to keep the Gophers (6-1) from becoming bowl eligible for the third straight season and giving the crowd of 51,241, the third-largest in stadium history, an impressive homecoming win.
Combined with Iowa’s loss to Maryland, Minnesota took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West Division with a 3-0 conference start, its first since 1990.
The Gophers have an opportunity to get ranked in the Associated Press top 25, if not this weekend, then after a road game next Saturday at Illinois. That would make them 4-0 for the first time since they tied for the Big Ten championship in 1967.
“I don’t read too much into that because of the stretch that we’ve got to go down to,” Kill said, referring to a final four-game stretch of Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. “I told our kids and took it off (Seattle Seahawks coach) Pete Carroll a little bit, ‘You want to be successful? You’re playing in a championship game every week, and that’s how you’ve got to approach it.’ And that’s not my quote; that’s what he said last year when they won the Super Bowl.”
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner recorded 249 total yards and three touchdowns, including a 37-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Maye to cut Purdue’s lead to 38-36 late in the third quarter. That drive started with a lost fumble call on Leidner that was overturned.
The Gophers were outgained 451-450 in total yards, including Purdue’s 298 yards rushing. Minnesota senior running back David Cobb had 35 carries for 194 yards and a touchdown.
Cobb was fired up after Thompson was knocked out of the game briefly in the fourth quarter on a hit by Purdue’s Danny Anthrop that resulted in a personal foul penalty on Anthrop. Gophers linebacker Damien Wilson, Cobb’s cousin, was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the play for pushing Anthrop, which extended the drive.
“To take a shot like that, to see one of your players out there like that, you have to bow your neck a little bit and come back,” Cobb said.
Minnesota responded with a fourth-down stop when Damarius Travis forced a fumble on Appleby to turn the ball over on downs with 8:26 remaining in the quarter.
The defense redeemed itself for how it got throttled in the first half.
The Gophers, who had held opponents to an average of 17 points per game, allowed only seven points and 143 of Purdue’s 451 yards in the second half.
But things went bad after Thompson’s 27-yard interception return led to Cobb’s touchdown run for a quick first-quarter lead.
Appleby followed with another interception, this one returned by Wilson for a pick-six touchdown, but the play was negated by Theiren Cockran’s offside penalty.
On the next play, Appleby dumped a short pass off to Anthrop, who flew past defenders on the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown to tie it 7-7.
After Purdue tied it again 14-14, things really got crazy in the second quarter.
The Gophers missed a PAT after a second straight penalty on the extra-point attempt, which hurt them when the Boilermakers quickly responded to take a 21-20 lead.
That was the least of Minnesota’s concern.
Cobb appeared to be down after losing the ball to begin the ensuing drive, but Purdue’s fumble recovery stood after a review.
The Gophers’ defense regained the momentum by forcing the ball loose on Anthrop’s third-down catch after Antonio Johnson’s menacing hit. Thompson returned what seemed to be a fumble to midfield, but the play was called dead.
Officials reviewed the call, but it stood, allowing the Boilermakers to kick a field goal to extend their lead. They added to it with a touchdown just before the half.
“I remember my first year, once we were down, we were like, it’s over,” Thompson said. “But going into the half, us being down, we had no worries at all. We said we were going to fight and go out there and win this game and that’s exactly what we did. That’s why I Iove my team -- we fight back, no matter if it’s 100 points or 10 points.”
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