Gophers upset Iowa, claim Floyd

The Gophers (3-9) defeated No. 24 Iowa 27-24 in the season finale at TCF Bank Stadium Saturday, the first time in four years the Gophers have won a trophy game.

Senior D.J. Burris, left, and Junior Brandon Kirksey hold up the Floyd of Rosedale trophy after their win against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday at the TCF Bank Stadium.  It was the Gopher’s first trophy win since 2006.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Senior D.J. Burris, left, and Junior Brandon Kirksey hold up the Floyd of Rosedale trophy after their win against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday at the TCF Bank Stadium. It was the Gopher’s first trophy win since 2006.

by John Hageman

A season of disappointment, ineptitude and heartache came to an end Saturday, but not with the Gophers walking humbly into the frigid Minnesota night with nothing to show for their struggles. Instead, the GophersâÄô last hurrah ended with an improbable comeback and the hoisting of a 98-pound bronze pig not once but twice for good measure. The Gophers (3-9) upset No. 24 Iowa 27-24 in the season finale at TCF Bank Stadium, their only home win of the season, reclaiming the Floyd of Rosedale for the first time in four years and erasing some of the anguish from a frustrating three months. The pain of a mid-season coach firing and a stunning loss to a Football Championship Subdivision school on the same field just 77 days prior seemed washed away as the Gophers carried their prize around the field amid a contingent of jubilant fans. âÄúIt was wild,âÄù sophomore quarterback and receiver MarQueis Gray said of the locker room celebration. âÄúWhen I got in there everybody was taking pictures next to the pig. I saw a couple people running around naked with towels over their head. We just had a good time.âÄù The win gave interim head coach Jeff Horton, in his fifth game, one more trophy game win than the ousted Tim Brewster, who finished his career 0-10 in those rivalry games. And the way HortonâÄôs Gophers did it made it more memorable, completing a fourth-quarter comeback for the second straight week. It looked like the Gophers were going to extend a three-point lead late in the third quarter when running back DeLeon Eskridge fumbled in Iowa territory, halting a promising drive at the 30-yard line. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi made the Gophers pay with an 18-yard touchdown strike to Marvin McNutt, giving the Hawkeyes their first lead of the game, 24-20, midway through the fourth. Time was running out for a comeback, especially after two quarters without a score. But senior quarterback Adam Weber, a four-year starter who had yet to win a trophy game, led a fourth-quarter march initiated by a 19-yard pass to Gray and followed by a 40-yard heave to DaâÄôJon McKnight. On a crucial third down just a few plays later, Gray took a designed quarterback run up the gut and broke several tackles on his way through a wall of Iowa defenders for the first down. On the next play, Duane Bennett punched in a 6-yard touchdown run to give the Gophers a 27-24 lead with less than five minutes left. âÄúI just felt like every time we came in the huddle, we just kept professing that we have nothing to lose and we can go out with a big bang, especially to end with a trophy game,âÄù Bennett said. The Gophers sealed the victory when Troy Stoudermire laid a jarring hit on Iowa running back Marcus Cocker, knocking the ball loose on the first play of the ensuing drive. Senior Ryan Collado leaped on the pigskin, and the bronze pig was just four minutes and two first downs away from becoming Minnesota property. âÄúI was already down the field celebrating,âÄù Stoudermire said. âÄúI wasnâÄôt even worrying about the ball, I just saw [Collado] jump on it, and I started celebrating because I knew he had it.âÄù The late comeback was only possible because of a quick start. The Gophers jumped out to an early lead when kicker Eric Ellestad knocked in a 26-yard field goal on the opening drive of the game and followed it up by recovering his own onside kick. Gray, lined up at quarterback, added his first career rushing touchdown midway through the opening quarter on a 14-yard scamper. Thanks to an effective running attack and the bold onside kick, Iowa didnâÄôt touch the ball until the 5:44 mark in the first quarter, already down 10-0. Minnesota finished with 216 yards on 46 rushing attempts. It was the first time rushing for more than 200 yards since a week two upset loss to South Dakota. âÄúWe felt we had to run, keep them off the field,âÄù Horton said. âÄúThey have some good players on offense, and we felt we really needed to stand up to them.âÄù The teams then exchanged touchdowns, and Iowa pulled to within three after an 88-yard kickoff return touchdown by Derrell Johnson-Koulianos early in the second. Although the Gophers still had the lead, it seemed that Iowa was on the verge of taking over with all momentum lost on the Minnesota side. But unlike weeks past, the Gophers refused to let the big play rattle them, and after exchanging field goals, they went into halftime with a 20-17 lead. They relinquished that lead for a brief seven minutes in the fourth quarter before finishing their up and mostly down season on the highest note possible. After taking a knee to seal the win with just seconds left, the Minnesota bench sprinted to the opposite sideline to claim Floyd while some students began spilling onto the field. As some of the Gophers hoisted the pig, Iowa called a futile timeout, seemingly trying to draw a penalty. But when the clock finally hit zero, it made it that much sweeter for the Gophers to pick up Floyd a second time. âÄúI had a lot of fun going over there to grab the pig the first time, so I was more than happy to run over there again,âÄù Collado said. âÄúAfter four tough years weâÄôve had our ups and downs, but it was great to get that rivalry win, get that trophy, it was great just finally getting to hold up the pig.âÄù