NDSU embarrasses Gophers amid thousands of Bison fans

Minneapolis native Marcus Williams runs upfield to seal the Gophers

Mark Vancleave

Minneapolis native Marcus Williams runs upfield to seal the Gophers

Samuel Gordon

Minneapolis native Marcus Williams was told that he wasnâÄôt good enough to play Big Ten football, but he made the most out of his homecoming Saturday night and electrified the stadium every time he touched the ball.

Williams, a graduate of Hopkins High School, scored two defensive touchdowns and sealed a 37-24 Bison victory when he returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

North Dakota State fans made their Bison feel right at home as NDSU upset Minnesota and handed the team its second loss to a Football Championship Subdivision school in as many years.

A day after the loss, head coach Jerry Kill suffered another seizure and announced he will temporarily leave the team to focus on his medical issues.

The loss is a painful one for the Gophers, who finished nonconference play 1-3 and open the Big Ten schedule Saturday.

âÄúYou have to play disciplined football âĦ We have to change the culture and itâÄôs not going to happen overnight,âÄù Kill said. âÄúWe have to push through it.âÄù

TCF Bank Stadium could have been mistaken for Lambeau Field Saturday night âÄî painted green and gold with swarms of Bison fans âÄî were it not for the maroon and gold seats and the Gophers logos on the playing surface.

Bison quarterback Brock Jensen was efficient in throwing for 197 yards and added 37 yards and a score on the ground. FCS Preseason All-American D.J. McNorton ran for 92 yards and a touchdown.

Minnesota shuffled between quarterbacks MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell throughout the night. Shortell often entered the game in critical passing situations, as Gray struggled to hit open receivers.

Gray completed just five of his 12 attempts for 53 yards. The Bison contained him as a runner, too. He carried the ball 13 times for just 23 yards.

Shortell directed three of the GophersâÄô scoring drives and took the bulk of the snaps in the fourth quarter when Minnesota was attempting a comeback.

The gameâÄôs opening drive concluded when Minnesota sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood scored on a four-yard touchdown run. That would be the only time the Gophers had a lead Saturday.

The Bison scored touchdowns on their next two drives before Kirkwood tied the game on a 30-yard scoring run with 2:11 in the half.

A McNorton 58-yard run set the Bison up with a scoring opportunity in the halfâÄôs final minute, and the senior running back pulled NDSU ahead with a 2-yard touchdown run.

Minnesota regained possession with 17 seconds left in the second quarter. On the halfâÄôs final play, defensive back Colten Heagle intercepted GrayâÄôs pass and scurried up the sideline as Gophers players made an effort to stop him.

It appeared Minnesota was poised to wrap him up and end the half, but Heagle fumbled the ball as he attempted to lateral it to a teammate. The pigskin caromed perfectly into WilliamsâÄô hands and he continued into the end zone to put the Bison up 28-14, stunning the Gophers right before half time.

âÄúWe rehearsed if you ever intercept the football at the end of the half, donâÄôt go down. Instead of going down, get rid of the football, weâÄôre going to try and score,âÄù NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said.

âÄúDonâÄôt go down, pitch the ball back. [Heagle] didnâÄôt quite get the ball pitched back, but he got it pitched back good enough for Marcus to pick it up.âÄù

The Bison tacked on a field goal on their first possession in the second half.

Then the quarterback carousel began for Minnesota.

Shortell engineered a field goal on his first series of the half, but it was Gray who entered the   game at quarterback on the next Minnesota possession.

âÄúWeâÄôre just trying to win games. Both kids have done good things,âÄù Kill said of his quarterback situation.

âÄúDo I like playing two quarterbacks? No. But weâÄôre still trying to figure out a lot of things in our program. Max can do some things. MarQueis can do some things. WeâÄôre still learning how to play quarterback.âÄù

Shortell has been a more effective passer to date while Gray exploded for a school-record 171 yards rushing a week ago.

Shortell brought the Gophers within a touchdown when he hooked up with Eric Lair on a 20-yard touchdown strike on a critical fourth down with 9:05 left in the game.

On the ensuing drive, Jensen converted multiple third-downs and the Bison ran more than six minutes off the clock, but kicker Ryan Jastram missed a 35-yard field goal that would have potentially iced the game.

With 2:58 remaining and facing a 31-24 deficit, Shortell and the GophersâÄô offense took the field.

However, the comeback fell short when Williams intercepted and returned the freshmanâÄôs second-down pass for his second touchdown of the night.

âÄúSince I came to NDSU, IâÄôve had my eye on this game. IâÄôm like, âÄòIf I get a chance to, IâÄôm going to make a big play,âÄôâÄù Williams said.

âÄúCoach always told me, âÄòBig-time players make big-time plays in big-time games,âÄô so thatâÄôs what I did.âÄù

The Gophers will likely be heavy underdogs as they take on Michigan on the road Saturday.

âÄúWe need to take accountability for how we play,âÄù sixth-year senior safety Kim Royston said. âÄúWe have to get better âĦ we need to get this thing turned around and come out next week and play better.âÄù