Surprise onside kick pays off

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2010 - 11:32 PM

Jeff Horton's gamble resulted in a 10-0 lead before Iowa had even touched the ball.

Gophers interim coach Jeff Horton hugged Eric Ellestad after the senior kicker recovered an onside kick in the first quarter. The Gophers then scored a touchdown to take a 10-0 lead before Iowa had the ball.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Jeff Horton likes to say that he's from Nevada, so he's a gambler. He proved it again during Saturday's 27-24 victory over No. 24 Iowa.

The Gophers took the first possession of the game 58 yards before being stopped at the Iowa 10, and settled for a 26-yard field goal by Eric Ellestad that gave them a 3-0 lead. It was the first time all season they had scored first against a Big Ten opponent, so it was already a breakthrough.

But Horton, the Gophers' laid-back interim coach, had decided ahead of time to utilize the element of surprise. As Ellestad approached the ball on the ensuing kickoff, he waited until Iowa players had turned to run downfield, then suddenly stutter-stepped and tapped the ball lightly. The senior kicker ran right behind the onside kick as it rolled and pounced on the ball once it crossed the 40-yard line, the requisite 10 yards from where he kicked it.

"Every single day we practiced that," quarterback Adam Weber said. "Eric worked on it after practice every day. It's something you have to have 100 percent confidence in."

Horton was so confident that the play would work against Iowa's coverage, "if they'd have taken the ball, we'd have started [the game] with an onside kick," he said. "They deferred [after winning the coin flip], so we said after our first points, we're going to try it."

The onside kick caught Iowa completely unprepared.

The Gophers turned the surprise into a touchdown, moving another 58 yards before scoring on MarQueis Gray's 14-yard scramble to take a 10-0 lead. It marked the first time this season that the Gophers had scored on their first two possessions of a game, and their first successful onside kick since Sept. 30, 2006, against Michigan.

Final thrill for Weber

Minnesota's 15 seniors were honored for their careers, some of which spanned three head coaches and two stadiums. Weber, who holds most of the school's passing records, was introduced last, to respectful ovation from the crowd.

That didn't come close to the celebration he enjoyed afterward, when Weber was in the middle of a crazy party on the field, parading Floyd of Rosedale around for the team's fans.

"You can only dream and imagine things like that," Weber said. "I've seen it on TV, but to be a part of it is really something special. I'm still kind of floating right now."

After the game, Horton delivered his own tribute to the senior who started all 50 games of his career at quarterback.

"I'm really excited for Adam. He's much maligned, but I think he's a tremendous football player," Horton said. "He epitomizes what we want this program to stand for. It's not all about wins and losses, it's about the people we produce. He'll be a winner wherever he goes."

Search update

The search for the Gophers' next coach is going "extremely well," Joel Maturi has assured Minnesota's supporters -- and he would like them to spread the word.

"When friends and family ask about this search, please reassure them that you have the confidence that we will find a coach of which we will all be proud," the Gophers athletic director said in a message sent to season ticket holders last week.

Maturi said it's important to keep the search confidential, but "we are nearing the final stages," though he did not elaborate.

Etc.

• Kim Royston suited up for the Senior Day ceremony but did not play. The safety from Cretin-Derham Hall never was able to get healthy enough to return after badly breaking his right leg this spring.

• Beating the 24th-ranked Hawkeyes ended the Gophers' 18-game losing streak against ranked teams.

• Freshman receiver A.J. Barker, a graduate of DeLaSalle, caught a 17-yard pass from Weber in the second quarter, his first collegiate reception.

• The Gophers were penalized 5 yards in the first quarter for a rarely flagged sideline infraction, when players were crowded too close to the field.

• Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' 88-yard kickoff return marked the second time this season the Gophers had allowed a kick-return touchdown. Southern California's Robert Woods took a kick 97 yards in September.

• Attendance at TCF Bank Stadium was announced at 50,805, though the student section was roughly three-fourths empty. A significant number of fans left at halftime rather than brave the 20-degree temperatures.

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