Minnesota’s final decisions define close loss

The Gophers went for a touchdown on the game’s final play but came up short.

The University of Michigan football team celebrates after claiming the Little Brown Jug trophy at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, where the Wolverines defeated the Gophers 29-26.

The University of Michigan football team celebrates after claiming the Little Brown Jug trophy at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, where the Wolverines defeated the Gophers 29-26.

Mike Hendrickson

There were 129 total offensive plays between the Gophers and the Wolverines on Saturday.
 
But it was the final play of the game that determined the outcome.
 
A Minnesota field goal with two seconds remaining could have sent the game into overtime, and a 1-yard touchdown could have sent TCF Bank Stadium into pandemonium with an upset of No. 15 Michigan.
 
Interim head coach Tracy Claeys chose the latter on the final play, three days after Jerry Kill announced his sudden retirement due to health reasons.
 
Quarterback Mitch Leidner lined up under center and prepared for the sneak. He dug his head into the pile of Michigan defenders and was stopped short with no time left on the clock.
 
There was nothing left the Gophers could do. It was over.
 
After officials reviewed and upheld the play, a sea of Wolverines filled the field and ran over to the Minnesota sideline to claim the Little Brown Jug they had lost one year ago.
 
“In that situation, I felt like we could get it,” Claeys said. “I’d do it all over again and do the same thing.”
 
The Gophers appeared to have won the game just seconds earlier. Leidner led his team to Michigan’s 23-yard line with 26 seconds left. He took a snap in the shotgun
formation, took three steps back and fired a pass to junior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky.
 
Michigan cornerback Channing Stribling fell behind and saw the pass drop into the hands of Wolitarsky.
 
Wolitarsky was brought down in the end zone. The referee put his two arms straight in the air, signaling a Minnesota touchdown. And with 19 seconds left on the clock, it appeared the Gophers were keeping the jug.
 
After a review, referees determined Stribling had brought Wolitarsky to his knees 1 yard short of the goal line and the clock started running.
 
“It was tough because we all thought on the sideline at first, ‘Look, he scored,’ ” senior linebacker De’Vondre Campbell said. “Even after they called it back we were like ‘We got [about] 20 seconds left on the clock, there’s no way we aren’t gonna put the ball in from the half-yard line.’ ”
 
Nineteen seconds quickly turned into seven and the Gophers had yet to run a play. They elected not to use their final timeout or possibly spike the ball to keep the clock from running.
 
Leidner threw an incomplete pass to tight end Brandon Lingen and the clock stopped ticking with two seconds remaining.
 
“I don’t think we were expecting [the clock] to be going,” Leidner said. “I mean, I wasn’t at least.”
 
The Gophers had time to talk among themselves after using their final timeout, and the field goal unit stayed on the sidelines as Leidner lined up under center.
 
One play later and the game was over. The Gophers didn’t get a chance to retain the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 1963 and were unable to win their first game with Jerry Kill in retirement.
 
A group of Michigan players grabbed the coveted trophy on Minnesota’s sideline, brought it over to where they had just stopped the Gophers and raised the jug in front of the scoreboard. 
 
Michigan over Minnesota, 29-26.