Gophers Bowl Bound after 34-24 Win over Hawkeyes
Saturday, November 11, 2006

With a 34-24 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes at the Metrodome, the Minnesota Gophers got their sixth win of the season, which was needed to make them bowl eligible. Both teams evened their records at 6-6, and both had completely different outlooks on the matter. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he was “appreciative” at the opportunity for a bowl trip while viewing the team’s season to date as disappointing. The Hawkeyes lost their final five conference games.

Minnesota, on the other hand, won its final three games, the Gophers’ only conference victories. “I don’t know when I’ve felt more emotional [about a season],” said coach Glen Mason, who spoke of the challenge his team faced. “To watch them do that is what makes my job really fun.”

Both Minnesota and Iowa were able to move the ball, but the difference in the game was turnovers. Iowa took the opening kickoff and had produced two first downs when quarterback Drew Tate, while being sacked by Willie VanDeSteeg, lost the ball, which was recovered by Minnesota linebacker Mario Reese at Iowa’s 49 yard line.

The Gophers mixed passes and runs in a seven-play march to the end zone. Pinnix had an 11-yard run and later a 10-yard scoring romp. However, Jason Giannini was wide to the left with his extra-point attempt.

Iowa countered later in the quarter. On second-and-one from midfield, Tate found Andy Brodell open over the middle. Brodell snaked his way through the Minnesota secondary for a 50-yard touchdown. With the conversion by Kyle Schlicher, Iowa took a 7-6 lead.

The Gophers retook the lead on a 16-play, 66-yard drive that twice had them facing fourth downs. Mason, who said he “didn’t have a lot of confidence in our field-goal kicking today,” went for the first downs, and each time Amir Pinnix got the necessary yards to keep the drive going. Jay Thomas then took over the rushing duties, carrying three times for 16 yards, the final one a two-yard touchdown run. It was Joel Monroe, not Giannini, who came out for the point-after, which he made for a 13-7 Minnesota lead.

The Hawkeyes answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive that started with a 33-yard gain on an outlet pass from Tate to Damian Sims. Sims and Albert Young split the rushing duties from there, with Young covering the final 14 yards for a touchdown that put the Hawkeyes ahead again by a point.

The Gophers next drive featured a pair of pinpoint passes by quarterback Bryan Cupito, who hit Logan Payne over the middle for 16 yards on third-and-10 from the Minnesota 20. Ernie Wheelwright then got a step on cornerback Bradley Fletcher, and Cupito layed a pass into his arms for a 64-yard touchdown pass and a 20-14 Minnesota lead.

Iowa got a 37-yard field goal from Schlicher and were on the move toward the end of the half after safety Miguel Merrick picked off a Cupito pass. The Hawkeys had a first-and-goal at the 3 when linebacker Mike Sherels intercepted Tate, and the Gophers clung to their 20-17 lead.

Ferentz acknowledged the importance of the interceptions but continually emphasized that the game was still there for Iowa to win. Mason, on the other hand, talked about the effect the play had on the Gophers. “My players sprinted up to the locker room. Momentum was in their back pocket.”

Iowa outrushed the Gophers, 117 to 55, and had more passing yards, 224-206, in the first half, but the 2-1 edge in turnovers for the Gophers was the reason for their lead.

The Gophers started the second half with a good drive that yielded no points as Monroe was wide to the right with a 40-yard field-goal attempt. However, Kevin Mannion intercepted Tate at the Minnesota 46 and returned to the Iowa 35. The Gophers converted a fourth-and-5 play with a 13-yard pass to tight end Matt Spaeth. Three plays later Spaeth caught a three-yard touchdown pass, and the Gophers were up by 10.

Ferentz switched quarterbacks on the next drive, going with southpaw Jake Christensen, a redshirt freshman who had been highly recruited out of Lockport, Illinois. “Things weren’t going really smoothly for Drew,” said Ferentz, adding that he thought the move “gave us the best chance to win.”

However, Ferentz rethought the decision when Christensen’s second pass was intercepted by linebacker Mario Reese. The Gophers again capitalized on an Iowa mistake, scoring on an 11-play drive capped by a 25-yard run by Pinnix, to go ahead 34-17 with just under 12 minutes to play.

Tate returned at quarterback and led the Hawkeyes on an 80-yard drive. The touchdown came on a third-and-goal from the 3 when Tate, keeping his balance after nearly being sacked, found tight end Scott Chandler in the end zone.

After pulling within 10, Iowa got the ball back and faced a fourth-and-2 at the Minnesota 25. However, Young, with a hole on the right side big enough for him to get the yards, slipped and fell to the turf short of the fourth down, effectively ended the Hawkeyes’ chances of winning the game.

Mannion, starting his second straight game for the Gophers at strong safety, later had his second interception of the game, the fourth for Minnesota.

Tate was 26-for-36 in passing with two touchdowns, but his three interceptions and fumble were costly. Young carried 25 times for 133 yards, and Brodell caught seven passes for 159 yards. Dominique Douglas, who came into the game leading true freshmen in the country in receptions, had six catches for 67 yards.

For the Gophers, Pinnix and Thomas had 121 and 79 yards rushing, respectively. Cupito was 18-for-30 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. On defense, in addition to his key interception near the end of the first half, Mike Sherels had 14 tackles, 10 of them unassisted.

It was the 100th football game between Minnesota and Iowa. The Gophers lead the series 59-39 with 2 ties, although this was Minnesota’s first win over the Hawkeyes since 2000.

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