Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
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He's had longer gains, a couple of them anyway. He's had touchdowns, too. But MarQueis Gray had never had a better catch than the one he stretched, stumbled and summersaulted for on Saturday.
"MarQueis made (quarterback Philip Nelson) look good on that one, because he overthrew it and MarQueis ran it down," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "That was probably (Nelson's) worst throw of the day, but MarQueis made it right. Good receivers will make a good quarterback. You've got to have some guys make a play."
Gray did, and it was one of the highlights of Minnesota's 44-28 victory over Purdue. The score was tied at 7-7, and the Gophers had the ball at the Boilermakers' 37, but were facing a third-and-four. Nelson took a deep drop to give Gray time to execute a double move and get deep, but the quarterback had to rush the throw when Purdue defensive tackle Kawaan Short burst through the line and hit Nelson.
The ball was already away, however, sailing toward the deep left post, seemingly a few yards beyond Gray. But the 6-4 senior didn't give up on the throw.
"I just tried to speed up as much as I can. Phil did a great job of putting a lot of air under the ball, giving me a chance to run under it," Gray said.
Gray lunged forward and stretched as far as he could, catching the ball with his fingertips, about two feet off the ground, at the 12-yard line. He took a couple more steps trying to get his balance, then fell forward and rolled to a stop inside the 5. The ball was placed at the 4, a 33-yard gain that was the third-longest of his career, and set up Rodrick Williams' touchdown run on the next play. "If I had known I was that close to the end zone," Gray said with a smile, "I probably would have tried to stretch a little more and stumble in there."
Still, he rated it as his best catch ever -- "by far." Not bad for a guy who has caught 56 passes in his career, but had not practiced at receiver since 2010. Gray started the season's first three games at quarterback before a leg injury and Nelson's promotion forced him back to receiver.
Nelson was impressed, too, once he saw it on tape.
"To be honest, I didn't even see him catch it," Nelson said. "I just had to give him a chance, because I knew he would go and get it."
That's what Kill wants, too, for the rest of the season. "We've got four hard games down the stretch, and we want to get him back and get him healthy," the coach said. "I can't say enough about him as a kid. He's an unselfish kid."
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