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Giannini played hero when Gophers last beat Michigan

Minnesota hasn’t held the Little Brown Jug since 2005.

Jason Giannini said as soon as the ball left his foot, he knew it was good.

His 30-yard field goal in 2005 lifted the Gophers to their first victory over Michigan since 1986.

Minnesota hasn’t beaten the Wolverines since.

It was the first game-winning field goal attempt of his career, but Giannini made the most of his chance.

“It was kind of surreal when it happened,” he said. “It happened so fast, but it was definitely the biggest day of my life.”

Giannini said he was nervous, but his holder might have been more nervous walking onto the field.

Justin Kucek held for Giannini most of 2005, but in that game quarterback Bryan Cupito started as the holder. Cupito was injured late in the game and the coaches called on Kucek to hold the final field goal.

“I came in there cold off the sideline, and I told Giannini [to] just put it through so we can get this thing finished,” he said.

Giannini kicked it right down the middle to win the game. But he almost never got his shot.

“It was pretty late in the fourth quarter, and we were on the other side of the field,” Giannini said. “I wasn’t sure if coach [Glen] Mason was going to play it safe, but I started warming up.”

Mason said the team took a conservative approach late in the game because of two previous games with Michigan. In 2003 it blew a 21-point lead, and in 2004 it lost on the final drive of the game.

In 2005 Minnesota ran the ball four times and looked to play for overtime. Then on the third down it dialed up a run to the outside.

Mason said he was hesitant at first to call the outside run because he didn’t want to risk stepping out of bounds and stopping the clock.

But Gary Russell took the handoff and ran 61 yards down the sideline to the 13-yard line. Russell stayed in bounds and the Gophers ran a few more run plays to keep the clock going.

In the final minutes of the game, the game clock stopped working and the referee kept time, Giannini said.

“That made it really tough to tell how much time was left in the game,” Giannini said.

Mason said he wanted to call a timeout with three seconds left so the field goal try would be the last play of the game.

He kept looking at the official, and the official stared back at him as the clock ticked.

“I panicked because I could just see him all of a sudden blow his whistle, wave his arms and say the game is over,” he said. “I mean, it was at Michigan.”

But Mason got his timeout in with five seconds left in the game, and out walked the field goal unit.

Mason said he tried to take the tension off Giannini because he could tell the kicker was nervous.

“I told him, ‘Regardless what happens on this kick, I’m still going to love you,’” he said. “And he turned to run back on the field, and I said, ‘I’m going to love you a lot more if you make it.’

“He started laughing, and as soon as he did, I turned to my guys, and I said, ‘He’s going to make it.’”

Giannini said those words from Mason made the difference as he nailed the kick.

A sea of players mobbed the opposite sideline to take back the Little Brown Jug, the trophy given to the winner of the rivalry game between the two teams each year.

Giannini said he was one of the last people to touch the jug.

“I run about a 5.0-second 40-yard dash, so I was about the last one to get to the pile,” he said with a chuckle. “I think there were some linemen that beat me to it, but I got a chance to raise it up in the locker room. It was awesome.”

Mason recalls the excitement that filled the locker room, but the best part was the fans who greeted the team at the airport upon its return to the Twin Cities.

Mason said the players were ecstatic to see the fan support but even more excited to get back to campus — so much so that they boarded the bus and left the airport without Mason and the jug.

“I ended up calling my wife, and I told her to meet me downtown,” Mason said. “I met her at Manny’s restaurant with the jug, and when I walked into that restaurant, the place went insane. I had to take a cab, but it was all worth it.”

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