Gophers going bowling again

Minnesota beat Iowa for the first time since 2000 and qualified for a bowl in the process.

Tyler Rushmeyer

The pig is back in Minneapolis, and Minnesota is headed south in December thanks to its 34-24 victory over Iowa on Saturday.

The Gophers took advantage of five turnovers to beat the Hawkeyes for the first time since 2000, and in the process took home the Floyd of Rosedale, a trophy that no current Minnesota player had laid hands on.

With senior wide receiver Logan Payne driving the medical cart and a plethora of teammates rushing to the Iowa sidelines, the Gophers hoisted the 82-year-old trophy to cheering fans and concluded the season on a three-game winning streak to become bowl-eligible for the fifth straight season.

Coach Glen Mason said this season has been his most gratifying, as he saw his team win its final three regular-season games for the first time in his tenure.

“I don’t know when I have felt more emotional, and I have been coaching a long time,” he said. “I know these kids had a tough road the last three games. They had to come together, and to watch them do that was what makes my job really fun.”

Iowa racked up 546 yards of total offense throughout the contest but continually shot themselves in the foot, coughing up the ball in crucial situations.

It began in the first quarter when sophomore defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg stripped the ball from Iowa senior quarterback Drew Tate.

Senior linebacker Mario Reese recovered the fumble, and Minnesota was on the board, 6-0, seven plays later.

In a back-and-forth first half, the Gophers took advantage of the miscues to build a slight halftime advantage.

Leading 20-17 with Iowa at Minnesota’s 3-yard line and time running down in the first half, junior linebacker Mike Sherels made perhaps the defensive play of the year, picking off Tate’s play-action pass to maintain the Gophers’ lead and give Minnesota the momentum heading into the locker room.

Sherels said the play was expected by the defense.

“I moved across the play-action and just sunk on the ball and reached up to grab it,” he said. “The perfect defense was called.”

The second half commenced in much the same fashion with sophomore strong safety Kevin Mannion picking up his first career interception, followed by a Reese interception on Iowa’s next possession to give Minnesota a 27-17 advantage heading into the final quarter.

Minnesota’s rushing tandem of junior Amir Pinnix and redshirt freshman Jay Thomas, who finished with a combined 257 all-purpose yards, came up with big runs again and again in the fourth quarter to help prevent a Gophers’ collapse.

Senior quarterback Bryan Cupito said the emergence of the running game to complement the passing game has been instrumental in Minnesota’s success over the past three weeks.

“We just came out and threw the ball and that was working, then we ran the ball and that worked,” he said. “We’ve had some real good game plans the past few weeks, mixing it up, and we finally executed.”

defining moment

Clinging to a 20-17 lead late in the first half with Iowa sitting on the Gophers’ 3-yard line, junior linebacker Mike Sherels picked off a would-be touchdown pass, jumping above the rest of the line to make the play and preserve Minnesota’s lead.
— Mark Heise

The offense execution coupled with another Mannion interception in the fourth quarter sealed the Hawkeyes’ fate and sent the Minnesota seniors to their fourth bowl game in four years.

Payne said the extension of his Gophers career is something the team earned.

“It was a great victory. You know the last game at home, finally beat Iowa and I’ve never seen that pig before so that’s a great way to finish,” he said. “Going to a bowl game. One more chance to strap it up as a Golden Gopher. The way we came back, we deserve it.”