Gophers upset in home opener, 41-38

Josh Katzenstein

It was a classic trap game. Minnesota was a Big Ten program playing in its shiny second-year stadium, a 30-point favorite against South Dakota, a team that couldnâÄôt manage a winning record last season in the measly Football Championship Series (formerly Division I-AA). The game was supposed to be a warm up for next week, when Minnesota hosts Southern Cal. Everyone thought the Coyotes would be a breeze. Everyone except the Coyotes, of course, who left TCF Bank Stadium with a 41-38 victory and left a young Gophers team stunned. âÄúIt’s a surreal feeling right now,âÄù South Dakota junior quarterback Dante Warren said. âÄúYou go into a game like this hoping everything works out perfectly, and today it did.âÄù Noting that almost no one on his team or coaching staff had ever played or coached in a big-time college football atmosphere, Coyotes head coach Ed Meierkort just seemed happy to have the opportunity to playâÄîlet alone beatâÄîMinnesota. âÄúIt’s certainly a career milestone, but more importantly it’s a university milestone,âÄù he said. âÄúYou can just see how giddy our fans are. I mean, it’s ridiculous. It’s going to go on for a while, too, it looks like.âÄù The Gophers seemed ready to match the more-than-reasonable expectations on their first drive. Troy Stoudermire returned the opening kickoff to the South Dakota 46-yard line, and an efficient drive lead to first-and-10 from the South Dakota 16, but Minnesota settled for a 27-yard field goal. ThatâÄôs when the Coyotes offense began its illustrious play in front of the first ever non-sellout crowd at TCF Bank Stadium (an announced crowd of 49,554). In only his second start, Warren looked comfortable and poised both running and passing, and dealt with very little pressure from the GophersâÄô defensive line. If there was single coverage, he found it. If there was no coverage, he found it. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns. Oh yeah, Warren also ran for 81 yards and two touchdowns. All of this from a quarterback who is 6-foot-nothing and weighs 196 pounds. To be blunt, by all accounts, he made the Gophers defense look terrible. âÄúObviously we didnâÄôt play well on the defensive side of the ball,âÄù Gophers coach Tim Brewster said. âÄúWe had opportunities to score a lot more points on the offensive side of the ball and should have.âÄù To be fair, the offense held up its end of the deal. The 38 points was the highest total scored in a loss since September 2007, and they edged South Dakota in first downs, rushing yards, total yards and possession time. Junior Duane Bennett reached the 100-yard mark for the second straight week, rushing 18 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Aside from a few dropped passes, the only real offensive mishaps were quarterback Adam WeberâÄôs two fumbles. âÄú[Weber] wants to attack the tackler, and I try like heck to get him to understand that [he can] go ahead and slide, and we move the chains, weâÄôve got a first down and we live to play another down,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúBut heâÄôs just such a competitive kid. He wants to take the tacklers on and unfortunately today he came up short on two occasions.âÄù The game couldâÄôve been different if anyone on the Gophers defense hit as hard as the Coyotes defenders. Instead, the Gophers missed numerous tackles and allowed South Dakota to regain momentum anytime it looked to be turning in favor of the Gophers. âÄúEvery time we felt like we were back to getting back in it, to make a move to win the game, they did something good, to their credit,âÄù Brewster said. The closest the Gophers came was in the fourth quarter, and it felt like they still had a chance to salvage a victory. After a one-yard touchdown run by Bennett cut the lead to 34-31 , the Gophers defense was poised to stand tall. The Coyotes faced fourth-and-one on the GophersâÄô 36-yard line. Minnesota needed to make one stop to let the offense, which had already scored three touchdowns in the half, continue its scoring ease. But Warren faked the handoff and rolled to his right. He ran for the first down and kept running for a 36-yard score, giving the Coyotes a 41-31 lead. The Gophers climbed back to within three on a seven-play, 58 yard drive highlighted by a 25-yard Bennett run. With one timeout and 3 minutes, 21 seconds remaining the Gophers kicked it deep, hoping the defense could make three stops. The Gophers made two quick stops and forced a third-and-four, but Warren found Dustin Nowotny on a short pass, letting the Coyotes run the clock and finish perhaps the biggest upset in school history. âÄúThis one hurts,âÄù Weber said. âÄúThe depth of my disappointment right now, you canâÄôt measure it,âÄù Brewster said. Related: – Missed chances plague GophersGophers look for more balanced approach in home openerRenewed Bennett finding strideSecond go-around at the “new” stadium