Michigan outlasts Gophers, takes home Jug

Michael Dougherty

In fine Halloween spirit, the Gophers football team dressed up as a pinch-hitting utility infielder with a .190 batting average going against the league’s top hurler with the game on the line.
Minnesota took its hacks, but struck out in its attempt to knock off No. 22 Michigan. The Gophers lost 15-10, and for the 12th straight year the Little Brown Jug stayed with Michigan (6-2 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten).
“I’ve got mixed emotions,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said. “We lost the game, that’s the bottom line, but winning was in our grasp late in the game. We just couldn’t find a way to get it done.”
The first strike for Minnesota (4-4, 1-4) came in the first quarter after the Gophers’ tough defense forced a Michigan punt after three plays on its first possession.
Minnesota got the ball in its own 42 and played smash-mouth football, running the ball 9 times for 56 yards. But on third-and-goal at the Michigan two-yard line, the Gophers swung and missed when Gophers quarterback Billy Cockerham rolled to his right and was sacked for a four-yard loss.
Minnesota settled for a 23-yard Adam Bailey field goal and the Gophers were up 3-0 with 9:07 left in the first quarter.
Strike two came early in the fourth quarter, when Gophers defensive tackle John Schlect hit Wolverines running back Anthony Thomas in the backfield and forced a fumble.
The ball bounced toward Gophers defensive end Curtese Poole at the Michigan 47-yard line. With nothing but turf in front of him, Poole tried to pick up the ball and run. But Poole couldn’t hold on before Michigan quarterback Tom Brady sneaked in to steal it back.
And strike three came with 2:17 left in the game, when Minnesota took over at the Michigan 48, needing a touchdown to win.
After a five-yard Cockerham keeper and a seven-yard Luke Leverson reception, Cockerham threw a bomb to Antoine Henderson in the end zone.
Henderson, who had a couple of steps on Michigan safety DeWayne Patmon, couldn’t hold on to the Cockerham pass and the Gophers went down swinging. But Henderson said he thought Patmon hit him early, and the replays confirmed his suspicions.
“I felt like he interfered with me,” Henderson said. “I could have still caught it, but he did hit my arm early.”
Mason said he was proud of his defense, but that the offense still isn’t where it needs to be. After rolling up 110 yards of offense in the first quarter (all on the ground), the offense gained only 109 yards the rest of the game.
“When it’s that close you replay it, a certain play here or there,” Mason said. “Whether it be the fumble, or the safety, or the pass to Henderson, whatever it may be it’s so close.
“If he (Poole) scoops it clean, it’s a touchdown, because they’re not going to catch Curtese Poole. If he would have fell on it and recovered it, we’d be saying he should have scooped it up and scored.”
Michigan eventually was held on downs, and Vinson redeemed his early fumble by pinning the Gophers on their own 10-yard line with a 43-yard punt.
Two false start penalties left Minnesota with a second-and-13 on their own three, Cockerham dropped back to pass and was sacked for a safety by Michigan linebacker James Hall.
Both Cockerham and Mason said they thought the quarterback made it out of the end zone.
“I thought I got out of there just by the nose of the ball,” Cockerham said. “But the ref called it a safety and there wasn’t really much I could do.”
Mason agreed. “I wasn’t too sure we didn’t get it out, but I don’t make the call.”
After the Wolverines got the ball on the free kick, they drove 35 yards to set up a 42-yard field goal which gave them a 15-10 lead, and set up the dramatic showdown with the Gophers behind in the count.
Despite the loss, Mason praised the play of the Gophers run defense which held the Wolverines to a negative rushing total.
“I can hardly believe my eyes when it says Michigan minus-23 yards rushing,” Mason said. “I don’t think the Vikings could hold them to minus-23 yards rushing.”
But the Gophers’ porous pass defense continues to give up big play after big play.