Special teams mistakes almost resulted in complete disaster for the Minnesota Golden Gophers on homecoming, but the home squad put together a gutsy final drive to grab a literal last-minute victory from Ohio.
A Craig James fumble on a punt return and Minnesota penalty rendered TCF Bank Stadium relatively silent when A.J. Ouellette followed up that disaster with an 11-yard scamper to make it 21-17 just a few moments into the fourth. Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner followed the score up by leading his squad on a methodical drive to pull Minnesota within one at 21-20. Ohio responded in turn by Josiah Yazdani BARELY squeaking through a 41-yard field goal to cap a 51-yard drive and go up 24-20.
Minnesota's final drive seemed to take advantage of a bend but don't break philosophy from the Ohio defense, which yielded too many gashing plays over a short period of time. Starting with the ball on its own 22 yard-line with just over 2:00 to go, Minnesota drove 78 yards on 11 plays. No play went more than 15 yards, but it resulted just how Coach Kill, staff and all of the Twin Cities wanted it to go: in a touchdown. The three-yard plunge from Shannon Brooks effectively ended things. But not before a little controversy.
After a long kickoff return from Daz'mond Patterson set the 'Cats up in manageable field position and Vick completed a pass over the middle, Yazdani trotted out for a chance to tie things up. After a timeout to ice him, Yazdani let the ball fly off his foot as kickers are always known to do when iced. Except this time, the officials whistled him for delay of game, a call that in this situation, is hardly ever enforced.
After a failed Hail Mary attempt, the Gophers got to go home happy on homecoming.
In earlier game action from the start of the contest, the 'Cats punted the ball away after a first drive three-and-out in what was an insanely zany play, in which returner Craig James muffed the ball to start the chaos. Players from both teams touched the ball before the Gophers fell on the ball in the end zone for what was ruled a touchback.
On its second offensive possession, Derrius Vick was impressive in completing passes of 38 (to the increasingly improving Keith Heitzman) and 39 yards with the latter resulting in Ohio's first touchdown of the game to the speedy Papi White.
After a Shannon Brooks 40-yard scamper tied things, Ohio mounted a beautiful drive in which it picked up several big conversions. A fourth-down conversion pass from Vick to Jordan Reid kept things alive inside the red zone, and a Sebastian Smith reception accounted for Ohio's second touchdown of the afternoon.
Vick was running on all cylinders to this point, and was 11-14 for 153 yards and two touchdowns at the conclusion of the scoring drive. He finished 17/27 for 194 yards despite playing with an ankle injury.
The Gophers then, of course drove 87 yards on nine plays to knot things up once more, 14-14 before the aforementioned topsy-turvy action that took place in the second half.
Ohio completed game action with 345 yards of offense against a team that has gained attention for its defensive prowess this season. The Golden Gophers ended the game with 468 yards of offense. Ohio made plays with the ball from the get-go, picking up the first down on seven of its first 11 tries on third down, but was only 1-5 in that same category to end the game.
Not the result Ohio fans wanted, but a respectable one nonetheless in Ohio's last game of non-conference action.