Late score gives Syracuse a 21-17 Texas Bowl victory over Gophers

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 28, 2013 - 7:08 AM

A 70-yard return and a TD scramble with just over one minute left allowed Syracuse to spoil the Gophers’ late rally.

– After playing 13 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown, the Gophers got two of them in the fourth quarter Friday night, both on passes from Mitch Leidner.

All it did was set up Minnesota for more bowl game heartbreak.

The Gophers held a three-point lead with 2:03 remaining, when Peter Mortell boomed a 57-yard punt. But Syracuse’s Brisly Estime returned it 70 yards and would have scored if not for a tackle by Mortell at the 14-yard line.

Sophomore quarterback Terrel Hunt followed that with a 12-yard touchdown scramble on third-and-8, and the Orange held on for a 21-17 victory in the Texas Bowl at mostly empty Reliant Stadium.

“Give them credit,” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. “[Mortell] punted the ball great, and we probably outpunted our coverage.”

The Gophers (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten) lost their sixth consecutive bowl game and missed a chance to post their second nine-win season since 1905. It marked the second consecutive year Kill’s team had blown a late lead in a Houston bowl game.

Last year, Texas Tech overcame a seven-point deficit in the final 70 seconds of a 34-31 victory in what was then known as the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Syracuse (7-6, 4-4 ACC) scored Friday’s go-ahead touchdown with 1 minute, 14 seconds remaining.

“We had opportunities, we didn’t capitalize,” Gophers senior defensive back Brock Vereen said. “I think that would be the headline of the game.”

Most headlines in Houston probably focused on the tiny size of the crowd. The announced paid attendance was 32,327, but that included Houston Texans season-ticket holders, many of whom stayed away. There were only a few thousand fans in the seats.

Maybe it was the small crowd, maybe it was Syracuse’s underrated defense, or maybe it was the 27-day layoff from the end of the regular season, but the Gophers offense was abysmal for the better part of three quarters.

The Gophers tried two quarterbacks — starter Philip Nelson and Leidner, who first entered the game in the first quarter — and Kill even returned to the sideline for the second half, after starting his seventh consecutive game coaching from the press box.

But the offense couldn’t find its spark until it was almost too late.

Nelson played the first two series of the game and the first series of the second half, drives that ended: punt, fumble and punt. He completed two of seven passes for 18 yards, underthrowing some and overthrowing others.

Leidner had some shaky moments, too, but he completed 11 of 22 passes for a career-high 205 yards.

Syracuse led 7-3 at halftime and stretched the lead to 14-3 on Hunt’s 5-yard touchdown run with 2:57 left in the third quarter.

The Gophers finally found their offensive rhythm on the next drive, starting when Leidner hit true freshman Drew Wolitarsky for a 19-yard gain on third down. Leidner completed that drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Maxx Williams with 14:55 remaining.

On the next drive, Wolitarsky ran a post pattern, and Leidner hit him in stride for a 55-yard touchdown pass. Leidner hit Mike Henry with another pass for the two-point conversion, stretching the Gophers’ lead to 17-14 with 12:34 to play.

“We started getting in a pretty good groove,” Leidner said. “We started feeling confident. We were making plays.”

  • related content

  • Video: Drew Wolitaraky on Kill's return to the field

    Saturday December 28, 2013

    Talking about Kill's decision to return to sideline at halftime.

  • BOXSCORE: Syracuse 21, Gophers 17

    Friday December 27, 2013

  • Photo gallery: Syracuse 21, Gophers 17

    Friday December 27, 2013

    Action from the Texas Bowl in Houston, Friday, Dec. 27.

  • Game recap: Syracuse 21, Gophers 17

    Friday December 27, 2013

    Offensive MVPTerrel Hunt, SyracuseThe sophomore quarterback rushed for two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:14 remaining, and finished with 262...

  • Cobb, Gophers ground game get going after halftime

    Friday December 27, 2013

    David Cobb fell 9 yards short of cracking the 100-yard mark.

  • Gophers notes: Kill returns to sideline for second half

    Saturday December 28, 2013

    HOUSTON – Gophers coach Jerry Kill knew his team was desperate for a halftime spark in Friday night’s Texas Bowl...

  • Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt watched the Gophers’ pass rush disappear up the middle, then scrambled for a 12-yard TD to give the Orange a 21-17 Texas Bowl victory.

  • Gophers defensive back Cedric Thompson lunged but couldn’t knock down this 20-yard pass caught by Christopher Clark, which set up Syracuse’s first touchdown.

  • The reality sunk in for three University of Minnesota students after the final gun in Syracuse’s Texas Bowl victory.

  • Disappointed Gophers players walked off the field at Reliant Stadium after a late touchdown gave Syracuse a 21-17 victory.

  • Mitch Leidner (7), who shared quarterbacking duties with starter Philip Nelson, found little running room in the first half.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Tampa 6 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
LA Clippers 96 FINAL
Chicago 86
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Houston 105
Golden State 106 FINAL
Boston 101
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
Indiana 94
Portland 110 FINAL
Sacramento 99
Charlotte 98 FINAL
Orlando 83
Oklahoma City 90 4th Qtr 7:30
LA Lakers 84
New Orleans 21 1st Qtr 0:58
Denver 14
Los Angeles 2 FINAL
Winnipeg 5
Tampa Bay 3 FINAL
Florida 4
Columbus 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Toronto 0 2nd Prd 9:03
Washington 2
Anaheim 0 1st Prd 11:01
Dallas 0
St. Louis 8:30 PM
Connecticut 81
Quinnipiac 65 FINAL
Manhattan 69
Fairfield 56 FINAL
Niagara 57
Marist 49 FINAL
Rider 59
Iona 60 FINAL
Saint Peters 68
Oregon State 56 FINAL
California 73
South Florida 55 FINAL
Houston 72
Marquette 66 FINAL
Providence 77
Michigan State 61 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
Siena 57 FINAL
Monmouth 63
Pittsburgh 63 2nd Half 0:25
Wake Forest 66
Oregon 51 2nd Half 11:37
Stanford 51
Purdue 35 2nd Half
Ohio State 23
Arizona State 7:30 PM
Washington St 8:30 PM
Georgetown 66 FINAL
Providence 81
Binghamton 50 FINAL
Elon 65 FINAL
Hofstra 58
Virginia Tech 47 FINAL
Boston College 49
(8) Louisville 59 FINAL
Virginia 75
Texas 69 FINAL
West Virginia 76
Creighton 53 FINAL
Villanova 61
Seton Hall 85 FINAL
Butler 76
UNC-Wilmington 76 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 65
(5) Maryland 69 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 48
Saint Josephs 67 FINAL
La Salle 55
Louisiana Tech 53 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 60
Rhode Island 70 FINAL
Massachusetts 78
Richmond 55 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 49
Davidson 46 FINAL
Fordham 54
St Bonaventure 43 FINAL
Duquesne 51
George Mason 45 FINAL
(22) George Washington 80
Indiana 60 FINAL
(20) Rutgers 71
(12) Texas A&M 63 FINAL
LSU 80
Ole Miss 47 FINAL
(11) Miss State 55
Clemson 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 61
Maine 47 FINAL
New Hampshire 61
Vermont 48 FINAL
Albany 76
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Monmouth 48
Saint Peters 47 FINAL
Siena 64
(4) Notre Dame 67 FINAL
NC State 60
Wisconsin 62 FINAL
Penn State 56
Stony Brook 49 FINAL
Hartford 56
Northeastern 47 FINAL
William & Mary 62
St Johns 61 FINAL
Xavier 74
James Madison 74 FINAL
Delaware 71
Towson 45 FINAL
Drexel 50
Illinois State 50 FINAL
Bradley 60
Southern Ill 74 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 70
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Wichita State 66
Minnesota 76 FINAL
(17) Iowa 92
(15) North Carolina 80 FINAL
(16) Duke 81
Alabama 73 FINAL
Auburn 80
(9) Florida State 69 FINAL
Miami-Florida 55
Arkansas 41 FINAL
Missouri 57
Georgia 52 FINAL
Florida 45
Dayton 95 FINAL
Saint Louis 68
Drake 57 FINAL
Missouri State 86
Colorado 46 FINAL
(10) Arizona State 59
(19) Stanford 55 FINAL
Oregon 62
Marquette 82 FINAL
DePaul 99
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 60
Vanderbilt 49 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 79
(2) South Carolina 56 FINAL
(13) Kentucky 67
Utah 41 FINAL
Arizona 64
Ohio State 78 FINAL
Nebraska 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question