Halfback pass vaults Gophers over Lions 25-16

Midway though the fourth quarter of Minnesota’s 25-16 win over Penn State on Saturday, Gophers wide receiver Ron Johnson knew something big was about to happen.
Running back Thomas Tapeh knew too. So did coach Glen Mason and everyone on Minnesota’s sidelines.
Legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno, anyone wearing a white Lions jersey or the 44,439 fans in the stands didn’t have a clue.
With 10 minutes left in the game, the Gophers clinging to a 15-10 lead and facing a third-and-four on their own 36-yard line, the call came from above.
No, not from heaven, but from the box of Gophers co-offensive Tony Petersen. The play: halfback pass.
“He called down and said ‘Hey, I think it’s there, do you want to go for it?,” Mason said of Petersen’s play idea. “And I said sure.”
That’s when Johnson, Tapeh and the rest of the offensive unit went to work. Minnesota center Ben Hamilton snapped the ball to quarterback Travis Cole, who then tossed it to Tapeh on a sweep left.
The Lions defense bit.
While all 11 white-helmeted Penn State players focused on Tapeh, Johnson snuck down the left sidelines. He ran about 25 yards to wide open turf. Tapeh then pulled the unthinkable, tossing the ball down field to a wide open Johnson.
“That’s one of the first times I’ve done that,” Johnson said of having his eyes light up like a Las Vegas casino. “The ball was up there for a long time, and I was thinking the safety was going to get to me, but he was too far away.”
Johnson hauled the ball in, then was off to the races. 64-yards, and one stiff arm to the Lions’ James Boyd later, Johnson was in the endzone.
“That’s just one of the variety things that we carry,” Mason said. “Hopefully it will always work like it did today.
“Thomas throws the ball well. Did you see that nice spiral?”
The play couldn’t have worked any better for Minnesota, as it was the knockout punch to end Penn State’s day. Even the Gophers defense was impressed with the Tapeh-to-Johnson trick combo.
“We might have a third or fourth string quarterback back there,” defensive end Karon Riley said of the freshman Tapeh. “You never know.”
The need for the big play late in the game was key, mainly due to Minnesota’s inconsistent offensive play in the first half.
The Gophers, and running back Tellis Redmon marched up and down the field on the Lions. Redmon had 118 yards rushing on 18 carries in the first half, but when Minnesota got inside the 20, things shut down.
Penn State was able to stop three Minnesota drives in the red zone, forcing the Gophers to settle for three points instead of seven.
“We have got to get it in (the endzone),” Mason said. “You have to expect defenses to play awful tough and gang up on you down there, and some how we were relying on a field goal and that will come back to haunt us.”
While it was Penn State’s defense which ganged up on Minnesota in the redzone in the first half, it was the Gophers defense who ganged up on the Lions most of the day.
Penn State didn’t get a first down until its sixth possession — 6:32 into the second quarter. And even that came on a penalty.
Neither team put many points on the board in the first half, as the score after two quarters was just 9-3 Gophers.
It wasn’t until Johnson scored on a three-yard slant from Cole in the third quarter that either team scored a touchdown. Johnson finished the day with five catches for 114 yards and the two touchdowns.
The Lions added a late touchdown to cut the Gophers lead to nine, but time was not on Penn State’s side. The win was the second straight for Minnesota over the Lions — quite a feet for the Gophers players to revel in.
“I don’t know how many people can tell their grandkids someday that they beat Joe Paterno back-to-back,” Gophers linebacker Sean Hoffman said.
Mason summed up the game as a typical Big Ten battle he expected to see.
“It turned out to be the type of game we thought, a good, old-fashioned line-up get after them game,” Mason said.
The Gophers will now turn their attention to Ohio State, and Saturday’s trip to Columbus to face the No. 5 Buckeyes — Mason’s alma mater.
Minnesota hasn’t won at the Horseshoe since 1949, a string of 15 consecutive losses.
Said Mason of the drought: “I wasn’t even born then.”

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected].