;TEMPE, Ariz. – The Minnesota football team made history in its Insight Bowl appearance Dec. 29, grabbing national headlines and providing a memorable way to close 2006.
Unfortunately for the Gophers’ faithful, it was a game that all would like to forget as Minnesota blew a second-half lead of historic proportions to drop its second consecutive bowl game.
Leading 38-7 with just over seven minutes to go in the third quarter, the Gophers somehow managed to blow their 31-point lead to fall to Texas Tech 44-41 in overtime. The Red Raiders’ comeback was the largest in NCAA bowl history.
Coach Glen Mason, at the helm for seven bowls in the last eight seasons, said the contest was clearly a tale of two halves.
“It seemed like we played great defense, unstoppable offense in the first half Ö everything went our way,” he said. “When we needed to make a play in the second half, we just couldn’t do it.”
That was obvious looking at the scoring breakdown. Up 35-7 at halftime, Minnesota (6-7 overall) allowed just one touchdown in the third quarter to make it 35-14 heading into the fourth.
The fourth quarter, however, was a nightmare for the Gophers, beginning with what would become a sign of things to come: a Texas Tech passing touchdown on the first play.
When it was all said and done, the Red Raiders (8-5) scored 24 fourth-quarter points, culminating with a 52-yard field goal by junior kicker Alex Trlica to even the score at 38-38 heading into overtime.
After Minnesota sophomore kicker Joel Monroe connected on a 32-yard field goal to begin the extra period, Texas Tech responded as it had throughout the second half, scoring a touchdown on a 3-yard run by sophomore running back Shannon Woods to cap off the improbable comeback.
Minnesota players were mum afterward, but junior linebacker Mike Sherels acknowledged the Gophers’ second-half play as inexcusable.
“Credit goes out to them. (They) played a heck of a second half,” he said. “We kind of got away from some of the things we were doing, started playing a little lackadaisical.”
The blown lead typified many losses of the Glen Mason era, which included the squandering of a 20-point, fourth quarter lead against Michigan in 2003 and a 10-point advantage in just over three minutes in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin in 2005.
Minnesota sophomore tight end Jack Simmons, who admirably filled in for injured senior Matt Spaeth, finished with seven catches for 134 yards and said the loss hadn’t quite set in yet.
“I think when we look at the film, we’re really going to kick ourselves because we’re going to see some big opportunities missed,” he said. “It’s a tough way to end the season.”
The loss puts an end to the careers of crucial offensive pieces in the Gophers system, including Spaeth, senior wide receiver Logan Payne and senior quarterback Bryan Cupito, all of whom did not speak to the media afterward.
Sherels said the loss was not the way Minnesota wanted to send out the seniors and that it is something they’ll have to learn from heading into next season.
“We just broke down. You kind of got the feeling we were playing on our heels, playing not to lose rather than to win,” he said. “It’s a learning experience, and something we can all take into the future.”