Comeback gives Gophers victory

Minnesota needed a last-minute drive to defeat Ohio at home on Saturday.

Running back Shannon Brooks pushes an Ohio defenseman aside on his way to score a touchdown at the Homecoming game in TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday where the Gophers won 27-24.

Liam James Doyle

Running back Shannon Brooks pushes an Ohio defenseman aside on his way to score a touchdown at the Homecoming game in TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday where the Gophers won 27-24.

Mike Hendrickson

Down 24-20 and in need of a touchdown drive, Mitch Leidner stepped on the field with an opportunity for redemption after fans showered the offense with boos a week earlier.
 
The maligned quarterback drove his team down the field in just over two minutes, finishing the drive with a hand-off to freshman Shannon Brooks. The game-winning touchdown put the Gophers ahead 27-24, for a homecoming victory over Ohio University.
 
“This is what we sign up for,” Leidner said he told his teammates before the drive. “We sign up for these big moments and these big games, and the guys responded well. They loved it. We just put the drive together from there.”
 
At the end of the third quarter, the Gophers held a 17-14 lead. But a a fumbled punt return by sophomore Craig James, his third of the day and the first that he lost, set the Bobcats up deep in Minnesota territory. Ohio capitalized quickly and took a 21-17 lead on an 11-yard run by running back A.J. Ouellette.  
 
Minnesota and Ohio then traded field goals, keeping the Gophers down by four as they got the ball back for the game-clinching drive.
 
“We’ve done it before, gone out [and] had a game-winning drive,” redshirt freshman running back Rodney Smith said. “It’s always a good feeling when you know nobody out there on the field is nervous and you can count on people to make a play.”
 
But the touchdown didn’t seal it for the Gophers. 
 
They quickly found themselves threatened after Ohio running back Daz’mond Patterson returned the ensuing kickoff for 56 yards. With 30 seconds left and key members of
the Gophers secondary out with injuries, the game was still in doubt.
 
The Bobcats set themselves up for a 53-yard field goal attempt, but had to move back five yards after a timeout by head coach Jerry Kill drew a delay-of-game penalty when
Ohio attempted a practice kick. 
 
Kill used his final timeout to set up his defense after the Bobcats abandoned their field-goal attempt to try a long pass to the end zone.
 
“They had to make a decision if they were out of field goal range or not or [to] go to the end zone,” Kill said. “It gave us a chance to get guys in the right place because we had so many injuries.”
 
Ohio quarterback Derrius Vick heaved his final attempt to his receivers in the end zone, but the ball was swatted down by safety Ace Rogers, and the game was over.
 
The Gophers netted a season-high 468 total yards with Leidner passing for a career-high 264 yards. Smith finished with 94 yards on 16 carries, and Brooks had 82 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns.
 
“It helps a lot for any quarterback to be able to get some run game going,” Leidner said. “It takes a lot of weight off of my shoulders.”
 
On Brooks’ third career carry, he evaded the Bobcat’s defensive line for a 40-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. The Gophers next drive ended in a one-yard touchdown run by Leidner, which set the score at 14-14 at the end of the first half.
 
Ohio had two touchdown passes in the first half, one early in the first quarter to running back Papi White and one in between Minnesota’s two first-half touchdown drives to wide receiver Sebastian Smith.
 
Vick finished with 194 yards on 27 attempts with no interceptions. The touchdowns marked the first time this season the Gophers defense had allowed two touchdowns through the air.
 
“It was the size [of the wide receivers] that gave us some problems, so we just tried to adjust our techniques,” cornerback Eric Murray said. “So we can adjust to the size and adjust to the people we’re playing because you can’t just play everybody the same way.”
 
Minnesota’s offensive line had the same starters in back-to-back weeks for the first time all season, and Kill said he believes Leidner and the offense performed better as a result. 
 
“We wouldn’t have won the game if we didn’t play better on the offensive line,” Kill said. “Those five kids hung in there through the whole game.”
 
The Gophers offense played its best game all season, setting season highs in yards and points.
 
After the boos from last week Leidner was determined to turn it around on Saturday.
 
“I’ve been a competitive kid my entire life, and at no point was I going to back down from any type of competition,” Leidner said. “To be in a situation like I was this weekend — angry after the Kent State game — and to bounce back, both myself and offensively as a unit, is huge for us. It’s huge for this program.”