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Coach Jerry Kill treated students to hot dogs before the game and a victory celebration afterward. The students, meanwhile, backed the Gophers on a late TD drive and subsequent defensive stand.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

Scoggins: Victory fills Gophers stadium with renewed faith

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS
  • Star Tribune
  • October 29, 2011 - 10:02 PM

The gigantic video screen on the TCF Bank Stadium scoreboard captured a kid in the student section holding a cardboard sign that pretty much summed up what unfolded on the field Saturday afternoon.

"Do you believe in miracles?" the sign read.

Yes. We do now.

How else do you explain the unexplainable?

The Gophers were cooked, done. Right? They had fought hard and showed some life, but when Iowa scored to take an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, well, that seemed like all she wrote.

But players who had been kicked around and ridiculed all season dug deeper than anyone knew they could, maybe even themselves.

The quarterback who has been criticized for his failings (we're guilty as charged) took control and showed moxie and leadership down the stretch.

The defense that too often has been left grasping at air this season stood firm and made a stop when it absolutely needed it.

The coach who had two extra years tacked onto his contract because of the mess he inherited called a gutsy onside kick that proved to be a thing of beauty.

A team that had been outscored 144-31 in three previous Big Ten games showed a pulse.

In the end, Charlie Brown finally kicked the football.

The Gophers concluded a spirited and entertaining comeback with a 'Victory' formation and pig parade as fans stormed the field to celebrate a 22-21 victory against their border rivals.

The day began with Gophers coach Jerry Kill treating students to hot dogs, chips and candy as a goodwill gesture. (Judging by the student turnout, he should have splurged for filet mignon and lobster. You could have shot a cannon through the student section at the start of the game.)

By the end, fans were chanting "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!"

Kill, however, will be the first to tell you that his players deserved the praise.

"I am happy for our kids," Kill said. "It is great to see them smile and have a good time."

It also was nice to see them show some fight and resolve. They didn't unravel when they made a mistake or the Hawkeyes took momentum. They didn't panic or fold.

That hasn't been the case this season. Too often when things go bad their shoulders slump, their body language changes and everything snowballs on them.

Granted, this is not a great Iowa team, but that was of little consequence. The Gophers learned something about themselves Saturday, something they can build on going forward.

That starts with quarterback MarQueis Gray, who finally displayed the dual threat ability expected of him since the start of the season. Gray has been wildly inconsistent throwing the ball, and his future at that position seemed uncertain, or at least open to speculation.

Gray still needs to do it over a long stretch, but he provided a glimpse of his capabilities during the fourth-quarter rally. He completed four of five passes for 53 yards. He also carried the ball five times for 41 yards, including the go-ahead 3-yard touchdown with 2:48 left.

More than his numbers, Gray looked in control and decisive, particularly throwing the ball. He looked like a leader out there.

"Coach Kill said I need to stop trying to be everybody's friend and be a leader of this team," Gray said.

He didn't do it alone. Duane Bennett ran hard and with purpose in gaining 101 yards. The defense offset a leaky run defense by getting pressure on quarterback James Vandenberg, including a sack/forced fumble by Kyle Henderson. That's something you don't see every day from the Gophers defense.

Kill rolled the dice on the pivotal onside kick that Kim Royston recovered, setting up their final score.

"This helped us move forward in a strong and positive way," Bennett said.

Kill had stressed patience as the lopsided losses mounted and the futility had become increasingly hard to watch. This team still faces a bumpy road, but Saturday provided something different.

If only for a day, Gophers football was entertaining again. That's a start. 

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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