A fitting conclusion to a calamity

Dan Miller

Minnesota football coach Glen Mason stoically strolled to his traditional postgame meeting Saturday with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz at midfield.

Defeated and stunned after a 29-27 loss to No. 19 Iowa in front of 64,719 at the Metrodome, Mason exchanged a brief handshake with an energetic Ferentz and walked off the field scratching his head.

When Minnesota kicker Rhys Lloyd’s 51-yard field goal missed badly wide left with 32 seconds left in the game, Minnesota’s regular season came to the fitting end of a monumental slide that wasted away Rose Bowl dreams and its most-hyped season in recent history.

“We have so much talent on this team and so many expectations,” Gophers quarterback Bryan Cupito said. “We just didn’t come through like we should have.”

Appropriately, Ferentz and Mason stood briefly at midfield as manifestations of two seasons juxtaposed – the frugal brilliance of one and the wasted failure of the other.

Ferentz won the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for the third-straight season and took lackluster and injury-prone Iowa (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) to six straight victories that virtually secured a spot in a New Year’s Day bowl game.

“(Minnesota) had success running the football,” Ferentz said. “But somehow, some way, we are sitting here with three wins, and they can’t take them back, and we’re taking Floyd home with us.”

Minnesota (6-5, 3-5) hasn’t yet found Iowa’s secret – even after holding Iowa to only six yards rushing in the entire game and rushing for 337 itself.

Since losing to Michigan on Oct. 9, Minnesota has now lost five of its last six games and has to use its win against Division

I-AA Illinois State to qualify as bowl-eligible.

“The season hasn’t turned out the way I or a lot of other people would have wanted,” Mason said. “I hope we have an opportunity to play in a postseason bowl game. If we get what we deserve, whatever bowl is fine.”

But this was just six weeks after Mason was telling a representative from the Rose Bowl how much he would like to go on New Year’s Day to Pasadena, Calif.

Instead, the Gophers only have an anticlimactic NCAA record to show for their effort.

Marion Barber III’s 167 yards pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. In doing so, he and Laurence Maroney became the first pair in NCAA history to both gain 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

“We have individual and team goals,” said running back Maroney, who had 156 yards and three touchdowns in the game. “We set the record, but, at the same time, the team didn’t do so good. So we are still on the downside.”

The Gophers, down 23-10 at halftime, came out strong in the second half behind Barber and Maroney, who tore apart a Hawkeyes run defense that was ranked fourth nationally coming into the game.

With 5:31 left in the third quarter, Maroney took a draw up the middle of Iowa’s defense for a 37-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 23-20.

Maroney scored again with 4:40 left in the game to bring the Gophers within two points at 29-27.

Minnesota’s defense held on the next possession, making quarterback Drew Tate and the Hawkeyes go three-and-out.

“We had a lot of momentum swinging our way,” Cupito said. “That was one of our better halves of football all year.”

The Gophers worked their way to Iowa’s 31-yard line, before Hawkeyes linebacker Chad Greenway knocked Barber backward for a four-yard loss, setting up Lloyd’s 51-yard miss.

Lloyd’s obvious frustration was the only emotion anyone else could express after the game as a disappointing season came to an equally bitter end.

In accordance with his coach’s team-oriented philosophy, Maroney gave the Gophers a scathing critique.

“I’m not going to stand here and point fingers,” he said. “As a team, we just lost.”