Pair of backup running backs lead second half surge

by Brian Stensaas

LAFAYETTE, La. – The entire Minnesota football family has mourned the past week, following the Sept. 1 death of defensive tackle Brandon Hall, and all showed great character in Saturday’s 35-11 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

The heat and humidity of southern Louisiana caused several players to go down with leg cramps, allowing the team to show even more resilience in the form of backups who rose to the occasion.

Starting running backs Marion Barber III – who missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury – and Thomas Tapeh each suffered cramps. Both were fine after the game, and coach Glen Mason said no serious injuries were suffered in the win.

But someone had to keep the running game intact. Enter the duo of Terry Jackson II and Renato Fitzpatrick.

The two played the majority of their minutes in the second half, and each recorded a score.

While Mason didn’t see the overall offensive consistency he would have liked throughout the game, the play of Jackson and Fitzpatrick was encouraging.

“I was real glad they came in strong,” he said. “I’d rather see (the starters) in there, but they have been well prepared to come in the game.

“They’re out there every day with a packed lunch ready to go to work. They’ve had a lot of rest and are tough kids.”

Fitzpatrick’s 34-yard rushing touchdown was a career long run. Jackson’s 15 attempts, 63 yards and a 14-yard scamper were all career highs.

In addition to Barber and Tapeh, starting quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq also left the game in the second half. Mason said the junior suffered a slight knee injury and a leg cramp, and Abdul-Khaliq was limping following the game.

Ward steps up

after 20 games of waiting, free safety Eli Ward finally got his first career interception with 45 seconds to play in the third quarter. Before the fourth quarter was five minutes old, he snared number two.

So what took so long the first time?

“I don’t know,” Ward said with a smile. “(Cajun quarterback Jon Van Cleave) was floating them up there tonight pretty high. The D-line was pressuring him all night. I just reacted.”

Ward’s two picks mark the first time a Minnesota player has intercepted two passes in one game since Rodney Heath in 1995.

Extra points

abdul-Khaliq threw four touchdown passes for the first time in his career while Ben Utecht enjoyed his first career three-touchdown game. Utecht now has a touchdown reception in four straight games going back to last season.

Brian Stensaas welcomes comments at [email protected]