Gophers slip by Purdue 39-38

Minnesota is now bowl eligible and No. 1 in the Big Ten West.

Jack Satzinger

The Gophers snuck past Purdue on Saturday after a strong second-half comeback, making the University of Minnesota team bowl eligible and the Big Ten West leader.

Even though the victory was  expected — the Gophers opened the week as a double-digit favorite — it carried a string of surprises.

Nobody predicted the Gophers (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten) to win 39-38 in a topsy-turvy game of missed extra points, 52-yard field goals, interceptions, called-back interceptions, fumbles, fumble calls that were overturned and unsportsmanlike penalties.

“There’s so many big plays. I’ll be interested to watch the film,” Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said after the victory. “There [were] a lot of momentum shifts in that game and a lot of critical plays, probably too many.”

The pandemonium began at the game’s first play from scrimmage when Cedric Thompson intercepted a pass by Purdue’s quarterback, Austin Appleby, and ran the ball back to the 2-yard line to set up a David Cobb touchdown run.

Damien Wilson also intercepted an Appleby pass on Purdue’s next possession and ran it in for a touchdown.

It looked like the rout was on.

But an offsides penalty from Theiren Cockran negated Wilson’s pick and gave the ball back to the Boilermakers (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten), who tied the game on the next play with a 55-yard screen pass to speedy receiver Danny Anthrop.

“We just weren’t executing our plays. Some of the things we were doing, we weren’t staying true to our assignments,” said Thompson, a Gophers defensive back.

Minnesota’s defense was much more disciplined in the second half as the Gophers diligently chipped away at the hole they had put themselves in during the first half.

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner threw a 42-yard bomb to receiver Donovahn Jones before capping off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run.

The defense stepped up on the next drive, forcing Purdue to punt.

With the ball back in Leidner’s hands, the quarterback found receiver Isaac Fruechte for 45 yards. After an impressive goal-line stand by the Boilermakers, Gophers kicker Ryan Santoso knocked in a 20-yard field goal.

Leidner, who finished with 165 passing yards, flashed his ability to find receivers downfield again a few drives later, completing a 37-yard pass to KJ Maye that resulted in a touchdown after the junior receiver leapt over defenders to get into the end zone.

“I think it’s huge for us,” Kill said. “We’re throwing the ball down the field more today, and we’ll need to continue to do that.”

Minnesota found itself in a tense 38-36 game entering the fourth quarter.

That’s when things got chippy.

Appleby scrambled to the left sideline for 13 yards, and Anthrop leveled a defenseless Thompson, who stayed down on the field.

The referees called Anthrop for a personal foul penalty, and Gophers players ran to Thompson’s defense.

Senior defensive back Derrick Wells ran from the sideline and confronted Anthrop.

Kill said he had an issue with Wells going onto the field, but the Gophers were determined to stand up for one of their team leaders.

“When you take a shot like that and you see one of your players out there like that, you [have] got to bow your neck a little bit,” said Cobb, who ran for 194 yards in the game.

Later that drive, Purdue faced fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 30-yard line. Appleby ran to his right, but he was met by hard-hitting defensive back Damarius Travis, who forced a fumble to give the Gophers the ball with just over eight minutes to play.

After four consecutive Cobb runs and an incomplete pass, the Gophers faced their own fourth-down situation from the Purdue 35-yard line.

Then in came Santoso, who hit a 52-yard field goal to avenge missed extra points and give the Gophers a 39-38 lead.

“You just have to take it one kick at a time and move on from your past,” Santoso said after the game. “I had to do my part.”

Thompson came back into the game after being shaken up by Anthrop’s big hit and ended the game the way he started it, picking off an Appleby pass to put Minnesota at the top of the Big Ten West Division.

“I mean, it’s a long season — it’s early,” Kill said regarding the team’s standings. “I’m glad we’re where we’re at and so forth, but I don’t read too much into all that because of the stretch that we’ve got to go down to.”