Minnesota Loss to New Mexico State Overshadowed by Sideline Collapse of Coach Kill
September 10, 2011

The Minnesota Gophers were driving for a game-tying touchdown in the waning second of their game against the New Mexico State Aggies. A third-down pass to Da’Jon McKnight in the corner of the end corner was incomplete as McKnight collided with cornerback Jeremy Harris. On the sideline Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill reacted to the no-call on interference and then collapsed with a seizure, thrashing as medical personnel tended to him. With the game resumed after a delay of more than 15 minutes, a pass by MarQueis Gray was batted incomplete, finishing the Gophers chances as they lost 28-21.

The loss on the field was bad enough. Minnesota was a 20-point favorite. Coming off a close loss to Southern California, the expectations were that the Gophers would win this game against a non-conference foe that typically meant a victory—at least until recent years when the team was coached by Tim Brewster.

The Aggies, who had never beaten a Big Ten opponent, relied on a passing offense, having produced only six net yards rushing the week before in a 44-24 loss to Ohio. However, they mixed a ground and air attack in scoring three touchdowns in the first half, opening up a 14-point lead and carrying a 21-14 lead into halftime.

“Defensively, we blew the game in the first half,” said defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, adding that the team was not ready for the five wide receivers the Aggies threw at them. The most dangerous of the wide-outs was Taveon Rogers, who caught two touchdown passes, of 26 and 41 yards, from sophomore quarterback Andrew Manley. Manley threw another, for 4 yards, to David Quiroga, and mixed it up with handoffs to Robert Clay, who carried 9 times for 37 yards in the half.

After the Aggies scored on the opening drive of the game, the Gophers, stopped on their first possession, scored to tie the game with Lamonte Edwards finishing a 10-play, 88-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.

In the second quarter it took the Aggies only 3 plays to cover 80 yards with Manley connecting on passes of 22, 17, and 41 yards to Todd Lee, Clay, and Rogers, respectively.

On their possession the Gophers were stopped on a fourth-down play in New Mexico State territory, and the Aggies capitalized with a 68-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard pass to David Quiroga, making Manley 12 for 12 in passing for 197 yards to that point.

The Gophers offense got going again in the final minute of the half after taking over at their 31 following a missed 49-yard field goal attempt by Tyler Stampler. Gray passed and ran to get Minnesota downfield and was helped by a late-hit penalty on New Mexico State (the Aggies had committed the same offense on the Gophers’ first scoring drive). Gray capped the drive with a 10-yard scoring pass to Robert McGarry with 8 seconds left to cut the lead to 21-14.

The Gophers left points on the field in the half. On the first play of the second quarter, Da’Jon McKnight, covered by two defenders, lunged and pulled in a one-handed catch for a 30-yard gain to the New Mexico State 4. However, Gray then badly overthrew Brandon Green, who was wide open in the back of the end zone, slipped and fell for an 8-yard loss after faking a handoff, and had his third-down pass tipped and then intercepted in the end zone by Boyblue Aoelua.

Minnesota had more problems with missed opportunities in the second half, which started with Max Shortell at quarterback, as Chris Hawthorne missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt on the opening drive. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover stressed that the quarterback switch was not a performance issue (Gray was 10 for 19 for 140 yards passing in addition to running for 56 yards in the first half) but a result of Gray cramping near the end of the first half.

Gray had left the Southern California game with cramps and didn’t come back as Shortell rallied the Gophers to a touchdown that brought them within two points of the Trojans. However, Shortell was not as effective against the Aggies and Gray re-entered late in the third quarter, after the Aggies had scored on a 2-yard run by Robert Clay to give New Mexico State a 28-14 lead.

Gray and McKnight had another big connection, this one for 35 yards to the New Mexico State 8. On fourth and goal from the 3, McKnight took a pass just across the goal line for a touchdown that, with Hawthorne’s extra point, brought the Gophers to within 7.

Minnesota momentarily looked like it got another touchdown midway through the fourth quarter when, on a third down play from the Aggie 5, Gray scrambled to his left, lunged, and touched the goal-line pylon with the ball. Officials signaled a touchdown but, after review, ruled that Gray’s leg had slid out of bounds at the 1 before he made contact with the pylon, leaving the Gophers with a fourth-down play. Lamonte Edwards was then stacked up on the half-yard line, turning the ball over to the Aggies.

Manley and Clay worked the Aggies out of trouble and got the ball upfield, taking time off the clock as they did so. The drive included a fourth-down conversion just beyond midfield, and New Mexico State moved the ball and worked the clock enough that the Gophers had barely two minutes left to start a drive after receiving a punt on their 11.

Gray did a good job of passing and, when receivers were covered, running for yardage and getting out of bounds to stop the clock. One of his scrambles that didn’t make it to the sidelines at least picked up a first down at the New Mexico State 25 with 35 seconds left. The clock stopped momentarily because of the first down, and, when it re-started, Gray spiked the ball to stop it. He threw an incomplete pass on second down, and then went to the end zone for McKnight, who was defended by cornerback Jeremy Harris, with the pass sailing over both. Despite contact, there was no interference call on the play.

Twenty seconds remained as the Gophers began to prepare for a fourth-down play. At that point, Kill collapsed on the sideline around the 10 yard line. Medical personnel tried to hold him still as he thrashed, kicking his legs and, at one point while on his stomach, slamming his right palm into the ground several times.

Kill has had a history of seizures that was known to his players and his coaching staff, some of whom had witnessed them as coaches under Kill at other schools. “Unfortunately, the bad part is we have seen this before, but I think that’s also a blessing because we’ve been able to handle it,” said Limegrover.

In 2005 Kill had a seizure during a game while coaching Southern Illinois. Tests done following that episode revealed that the coach also had kidney cancer. He had surgery for the cancer and has been taking medication that may contribute to other seizures, according to Minnesota team physician Pat Smith. In addition, the heat (the temperature at game time was 87 degrees) may have been a factor.

Fans applauded and chanted “Jer-ry” as Kill was lifted on to a cart, which took him off the field and to an ambulance.

The game resumed with Gray’s incomplete pass following by the Aggies taking a knee to end the game. Smith addressed the media after the game with news that Kill was stable and being evaluated at the hospital. “At no time was he at any risk,” Smith said, adding that Kill’s breathing and vital signs were normal.

New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker, who had played for the Gophers in the early 1980s, said that Kill being okay is “the most important thing. A W [win] is a W, but I know our players and our coaches were thinking about him, and hopefully he’ll have a nice recovery.” Of the game, Walker said, “This is a signature win for our program, and I hope we can build on it.

The sideline drama became the main story but another was that the Gophers, as they had often done under Tim Brewster over the previous four seasons, had lost a game they had no business losing. The Aggies previous games against Big Ten opponents were a 69-13 loss to Wisconsin in 1962, a 59-21 loss to Iowa in 1995, and a 45-0 loss to Ohio State in 2009. (New Mexico State has also lost three games in the past to Nebraska, which has joined the Big Ten next year.)

For the second week in a row, the Gophers had a bad first half and a rally in the second half. Against the Aggies, the Minnesota defense held Manley to 62 yards passing (after 226 in the first half) and shut out Rogers, who had made 4 catches for 88 yards in the first half.

However, Robert Clay had 64 of his 101 yards rushing in the second half. MarQueis Gray was the game’s leading rushing, running 17 times for 123 yards. His passing numbers were respectable, completing 16 of 32 for 211 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Da’Jon McKnight caught 9 passes for 146 yards.

When Kill had his 2005 seizure while with Southern Illinois, he was back on the sidelines for the Salukis’ next game. However, it is uncertain whether he will make it back in time for the Gophers’ game the following week, against Miami (Ohio).

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