Despite struggling to get anything going on offense for much of the game, the Minnesota Golden Gophers had a chance to win the Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston in the final minutes of a 21-17 loss to the Syracuse Orange Friday.
However, a low line drive punt by Peter Mortell and poor assignment discipline by the Gopher punt coverage unit allowed the Orange to get into position to score the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining.
Mortell’s punt was too low for the coverage unit to make a play on Brisly Estime and a big hole opened up in the middle of the field. The freshman took the kick back 70 yards to the Gopher 14-yard line with one minute and 44 seconds remaining. After two runs and a false start penalty had the Gophers in position to, at the very least, force the Orange to try the game-tying field goal.
Instead quarterback Terrel Hunt was able to find a running lane when the interior of the Gopher defensive line got pushed to one side and scampered 12 yards for the go-ahead score with one minute and 14 seconds left.
The Gophers (8-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) had a chance to re-claim the lead on the second to last play of the game, but the ball went through the hands of wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky at the goal line for an incomplete pass.
Wolitarsky gave the Gophers their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter on a 55-yard touchdown catch from Mitch Leidner. Wolitarsky also had a 23-yard touchdown catch negated by a very questionable offensive pass interference penalty. The Gophers eventually had to settle for a field goal heading into half time.
Leidner provided the Gophers with a fourth quarter spark connecting on two touchdown passes, including the long throw to Wolitarsky. He also found Maxx Williams on a 20-yard strike on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Orange (7-6, 4-4 ACC) led 7-3 at halftime and 14-3 after three quarters before having to rally in the final two minutes.
The Gophers fell to 0-21 under head coach Jerry Kill when trailing at halftime.
Syracuse.……0 7 7 7 - 21
Minnesota……0 3 0 14 - 17
SYR - Smith 1 run (Norton kick).
MIN - Hawthorne 41 kick.
SYR - Hunt 5 run (Norton kick).
MIN - M. Williams 20 pass from Leidner (conversion failed).
MIN - Wolitarsky 55 pass from Leidner (Henry pass from Leidner).
SYR - Hunt 12 run (Norton kick).