Gophers upset Boilermakers on homecoming

Matt Perkins

With Minnesota’s football team down one with just more than six minutes left in regulation, the team started a drive from its 20-yard line with a couple of runs that went nowhere.

On third down and eight, quarterback Bryan Cupito dropped back to pass, stared down tight end Matt Spaeth, and released a bullet pass. Purdue linebacker Dan Bick picked off Cupito’s attempt and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown.

Following the play that put the Gophers in a hole – down 28-20 with 5:45 remaining – coach Glen Mason thought to himself, “Here we go again,” he said.

But Minnesota (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) refused to let history repeat itself. They rallied to force two overtimes and ultimately pulled out a thrilling 42-35 victory over No. 11 Purdue (3-1, 0-1), on Saturday at the Metrodome.

“(Cupito’s) a tough kid,” Mason said. “Rock solid. After he makes a mistake, he doesn’t hang his head and cry about it. I’m not going to say that I wasn’t worried when he threw that interception, but the way he responded and led us down the field to tie the game showed a lot of character.”

A Gophers 65-yard touchdown drive forced overtime. They found themselves at fourth and goal from the 8-yard line, needing a touchdown to extend the game. Cupito took a two-step drop and hooked up with a wide-open Logan Payne on a slant route. Jason Giannini knocked the extra point through to force a second overtime.

The Gophers took the ball first in the second overtime and scored relatively easily, capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by running back Gary Russell, his third score of the game.

But the Boilermakers got a chance to answer and set up in a shotgun formation, something the Gophers hadn’t been able to stop since the first half.

On fourth and one from the Minnesota 16-yard line, the Gophers’ defense came through, stopping Boilermakers’ quarterback Brandon Kirsch’s pass attempt, which was under thrown to tight end Charles Davis, closing out an exciting afternoon of football with the Gophers first win against a ranked opponent since 2002.

The outlook was much darker following the Cuptio pick that put the Boilers up 28-20. But Purdue kickoff specialist Dave Brytus shanked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds to give the Gophers good field position.

From their own 35, Cupito led the Minnesota offense back on the field, heads high.

A few out routes to Ernie Wheelwright, Laurence Maroney and Russell runs later, the Gophers found themselves first and goal from the Purdue 7 with just over two minutes left in the game.

Maroney was stuffed for a one-yard loss on first down, and the Boilermakers defense lined up with nine in the box on second down, prepared for another run.

Cupito hooked up with Spaeth in the back of the end zone, and was quick in bringing his teammates back to the huddle for the following two-point conversion.

He said he looked over to the sidelines, got the play from offensive coordinator Mitch Browning, turned to the huddle and said “you guys aren’t going to believe what they just called.”

All week the Gophers prepared to defend Purdue’s option offense, and with the game on the line, they decided to use it against them.

The snap came and Cupito ran right with Maroney trailing close behind. The Boilermakers bit and over-pursued to cover the running back, allowing Cupito to keep it himself and dive in for the successful conversion to knot the game at 28 with 1:34 on the clock.

Purdue got one last shot to win the game, but Mason said Saturday’s contest gave him much more confidence in his defense.

“This win was especially gratifying because we were able to win on defense,” Mason said. “Our defense has been kicked around and the subject of a lot of criticism. But those same kids came out today and played a heck of a football game.”

The Gophers defense stopped Purdue’s final regulation drive, forced a punt, and allowed time to expire to send the game into overtime.

Minnesota won the overtime coin toss and chose to defend first. Purdue running back Kory Sheets scored on a five-yard run up the middle, and with the extra point the Boilermakers went up 35-28.

Picking their way down to a first and goal situation, two Gophers’ rushing attempts were stuffed and a false start penalty on third down forced them back to the 8-yard line. Then came the fourth down pass to Payne and later, Minnesota victory.

Afterwards, some of the players called the game one of the best they had ever been a part of.

“I was talking to someone in the locker room, and they said it was the most exciting game they ever played in,” Spaeth said. “And I said ‘yeah, it was the most exciting, with a positive outcome at least.'”