Large crowd witnesses large Michigan comeback

Brett Angel

It was an innocent mistake.

Early in the second quarter of Minnesota’s Big Ten bout against Michigan on Friday night, the sound technicians at the Metrodome accidentally followed a Gophers first down by playing the Vikings’ trademark blowhorn over the stadium’s public address system.

As any one of the 62,374 people in attendance can attest, it’s hard to blame them for thinking they were working a home game for Minnesota’s professional football team instead of its college version.

From the time the Gophers (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) sprinted out of the tunnel for pregame warmups until the final snap of the game, the Metrodome was alive with a buzz fans (and sound technicians) haven’t seen this side of Sunday in a long time.

The season-best crowd was the third-largest to show up for a University football game in Glen Mason’s seven years as coach. It was the largest crowd against any opponent other than border rivals Wisconsin and Iowa since 1985, when Lou Holtz coached the Gophers.

“This is truthfully the first time that I’ve been around something like this at Minnesota and I loved it to death,” Minnesota, quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said.

Unfortunately, the record crowd wasn’t enough to bolster the 25th-ranked Gophers to a win over No. 17 Michigan (5-2, 2-1), which has now beaten Minnesota 15 straight times. But it wasn’t for lack of effort that the fans couldn’t push the Gophers over the top.

Minnesota players and fans alike were sent into a frenzy late in the third quarter after a two-yard Thomas Tapeh touchdown run gave the Gophers a 21-point lead and what seemed like a great chance to recapture the Little Brown Jug on the trophy’s 100th anniversary.

But a quick-strike Michigan offense that had been held down for the game’s first three quarters found its cure-all in the form of a Chris Perry screen pass and rallied all the way back.

The Wolverines converted on a handful of third and fourth downs in the game’s final quarter. And they did so with the decibel-level in the Metrodome peaking each time.

Down 35-21 and facing a third-and-10 from his own 34-yard line, Michigan quarterback John Navarre silenced the crowd with a 14-yard pass for a first down. On the next snap, Navarre hooked up with Braylon Edwards for a 52-yard score to pull the Wolverines within a touchdown.

Michigan sandwiched another touchdown between two Minnesota punts before getting the ball back with 4:12 remaining and the score tied 35-35.

On the its final drive, Michigan converted a fourth-and-inches at midfield and a third-and-nine from the Gophers’ 32-yard line to set up Garrett Rivas’ game-winning field goal.

The Wolverines converted seven of 15 third downs and two of three fourth downs in the game – all of them coming with the Metrodome rocking.

“I was about ready to cry,” said Gophers fan Jason Nelson, who graduated from Minnesota in 2002 and watched from the student section Friday night. “We were behind them 100 percent the whole time. Everybody finally came to see the big game, and then we blew it in the fourth quarter again.”

By the time the final whistle sounded, the only fans left cheering stood in a small section of the Metrodome’s upper deck wearing maize and blue. Minnesota supporters, meanwhile, were left with puzzling questions and hoarse voices to show for their effort.

“I’m disappointed that I couldn’t let those guys go home happy, but we’ll have to wait until next week,” Abdul-Khaliq said.

This Saturday will provide the Gophers their first chance to put the devastating loss behind them when Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) comes to town.

Mason and his team can only hope the Gophers’ play – albeit in a loss – was enough to inspire their fans to show up with the same type of energy against the Spartans.

“It was exceptional,” Mason said of the crowd. “I only hope they appreciated the effort of those kids and felt they gave us a good boost. I’ll be disappointed if they don’t come back for Michigan State.”