Gophers win despite being short handed

Aaron Blake

>EL PASO, Texas – Minnesota overcame the loss of three and almost four starters in Wednesday’s 31-30 Sun Bowl victory over Oregon.

Freshman cornerback Trumaine Banks took a 37-hour bus ride home to Columbus, Ohio, after violating team rules. Minnesota coach Glen Mason said Banks didn’t do anything criminal, but participated in conduct detrimental to the team.

In addition, sophomore wide receiver Jared Ellerson and senior tight end Ben Utecht were both held out of the game with injuries. Ellerson was nursing a hamstring injury and Utecht was still battling an abdominal strain suffered late in the regular season.

Despite over six weeks between the regular season finale Nov. 15 at Iowa and Wednesday’s game, Utecht was unable to participate in his final game in a Minnesota uniform.

After the opening kickoff, the Gophers thought they might be minus their fourth starter as well. Senior free safety Eli Ward went hard at Oregon kick returner Kenny Washington and thought he came out with a broken hand.

“I just went down there kamikaze-style,” Ward said. “I got up and was kind of hurt. They thought it was broken at first, but the x-rays showed it wasn’t broken.”

Ward taped up the hand and returned on the third play of the game. But he admitted a dropped interception in the fourth quarter had a lot to do with his busted mit.

Senior safety Justin Isom started at cornerback opposite Ukee Dozier, while Justin Fraley filled in at Isom’s usual strong safety position. Isom’s interception with 10 seconds left in the game iced the victory for the Gophers.

Senior Tony Patterson started at receiver for Ellerson, and freshman Matt Spaeth filled in for Utecht.

Tapeh runs for records

With his three touchdowns runs, Gophers fullback Thomas Tapeh set a Minnesota bowl game record.

He is now the school’s all-time leader in postseason scoring, and the 18 points he accounted for bested kicker Dan Nystrom’s single-game record of 17 set in last year’s Music City Bowl.

Maroney, too

In addition to become the 12th player in Minnesota history to run for 1,000 yards in a single season, freshmen tailback Laurence Maroney’s milestone joined him with teammate Marion Barber III to form only the 30th duo in NCAA history to both reach the millennium mark in the same season.

The Gophers conclude the 2003 season with five active players who have rushed for 1,000 yards in their Minnesota careers (Maroney, Barber, Tapeh, quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq, tailback Terry Jackson II).

“I’ve got a year under my belt, so I can come out next year and be a little bit more experienced and maybe better,” Maroney said.

Maroney’s freshman campaign is the best since Darrell Thompson’s 1,376 yards as a freshman in 1986.

Flip-flop

Just as in the 1999 Sun Bowl, the losing team swept all three most valuable player awards in the contest.

Oregon’s senior receiver Samie Parker was named most valuable player with 16 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, defensive lineman Junior Siavii won the most valuable lineman award, and kicker Jared Siegel was named the most valuable special teams player, going 3-for-3 on field goals.

In 1999, the Gophers won all three awards despite dropping a 24-20 decision to the Ducks. Quarterback Billy Cockerham, defensive tackle Dyron Russ, and punter Ryan Rindels won each award, respectively.