Gophers Survive Scare from Rutgers on Late Field Goal for 34-32 Win
October 22, 2016

Emmit Carpenter’s 28-yard field goal with 6 seconds left allowed the Minnesota Gophers to slip by the lowly Rutgers Scarlet Knights for a 34-32 win.

Rutgers is winless in the Big Ten with losses that include a 58-0 drubbing by Ohio State and a 78-0 trouncing by Michigan.

Nevertheless, the Scarlet Knights—down 21-3 after one quarter—took a 32-31 lead on a 39-yard field goal by David Bonagura with 4:01 left in the game.

However, it was Bonagura’s failure earlier missing an extra-point after a 55-yard return of an interception for a touchdown by Damon Hayes that accounted for the difference in the game.

Bonagura’s miss left Rutger’s trailing 24-23, and Bonagura’s ensuing kickoff was returned 94 yards for a touchdown by Rodney Smith to pad the Gophers lead to 31-23.

When the Scarlet Knights scored in the fourth quarter, they went for a two-point conversion, which would have tied the game. However, Giovanni Rescignio’s pass was incomplete, and the failed point-after now accounted for two lost points, the final margin in the game.

Minnesota was a 19-point favorite and took command early, scoring on all three of its possessions in the first quarter for a 21-3 lead as senior quarterback Mitch Leidner completed all six of his pass attempts for 102 yards and Shannon Brooks ran for 35 yards, including one touchdown.

Rutgers got into the end zone as Giovanni Rescigno hit Justin Goodwin out of the backfield for a six-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter to pull Rutgers within 21-10.

Late in the quarter Rescigno led the Scarlet Knights on a long drive that started at the Rutgers 4. The Knights reached the Minnesota 13, but safety Damarius Travis intercepted a pass in the end zone with 10 seconds left, and the Gophers held their 11-point margin.

The Scarlet Knights got the ball to begin the third quarter and moved into Minnesota territory after a 15-yard penalty on linebacker Jack Lynn, who was called for targeting and ejected from the game. On the next play Rescigno fired for the end zone and hit Andrew Payton, who had gotten a step on defensive back Jalen Myrick.

The Gophers increased the lead to 24-17 on a 39-yard field goal by Carpenter. On Minnesota’s next possession, cornerback Damon Hayes picked off Leidner’s pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. However, Bonagura was wide left with the point-after, leaving Rutgers a point short of the Gophers.

Bonagura, who had been unable to reach the end zone on his kickoffs, came up short with his next one. Smith took it on the 6, found a seam in the middle of the field, and raced to his right and down the sideline for a 94-yard return and a 31-23 Minnesota lead.

The Gophers’ offense had been stagnant since the first quarter, but they penetrated Rutgers territory to the 10 yard line, only to give the ball up on downs as Leidner was tackled short of a first down on fourth and one.

The Scarlet Knights capped a 90-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Rescigno to Juwaun Harris early in the fourth quarter. Left a point short because of Bonagura’s earlier miss, Rutgers went for a two-point conversion to tie, but Rescigno’s pass to Goodwin was incomplete.

Minnesota again turned the ball over on downs, this time at the Rutgers 47 yard line, but the Scarlet Knights couldn’t capitalize and had to punt. Drew Wolitarsky dropped Michael Cintron’s short punt, and Isaiah Johnson recovered on the Minnesota 27 yard line, leaving Rutgers in field-goal position.

The Knights gained only five yards on three plays, but it got them close enough for Bonagura to get a 39-yard field goal over the crossbar for a 32-31 Rutgers lead with 4:01 left.

Minnesota was able to mount a sustained drive, using up most of the clock and getting them to the Rutgers 10 with 10 seconds left. With the ball set up in the middle of the field, Carpenter was able to drill the 28-yard field goal that gave Minnesota its 34-32 win.

“I can’t express how proud I am of our players,” said Rutgers coach Chris Ash. “The effort they have continued to put forth. The preparation they had throughout the week. A lot of people have written this team off; this group of individuals off and they just keep coming back to work every single day and we are getting better.”

While Ash viewed the Rutgers effort as a moral victory, Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys refused to look at his team’s performance as a moral defeat. “You are playing against quality, Big Ten opponents and they are going to keep fighting,” he said. “For some reason, I guess we thought that because they hadn’t won a game in the Big Ten that they were just going to lay down with the big lead. So it’s a lesson to be learned there but again we made the plays at the end that we needed to make and now we go back to work on fixing some things.”

In addition to 119 yards in kickoff returns, Rodney Smith rushed for 111 yards. Leidner completed 11 or 18 passes for 156 yards.

Rescigno completed 22 for 28 passes for 220 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Minnesota, now 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, now heads on the road for a game at Illinois next Saturday.

Gopher Holes: The Gophers were without five players—including starting cornerback KiAnte Hardin—who were the subject of a restraining order filed by a Gophers cheerleader. The five had been accused of sexual assault in the wee hours following the Gophers’ season-opening win over Oregon State on Thursday night, September 1. The players had been suspended until Hennepin County declined to press charges, but the restraining order keeps those involved away from TCF Bank Stadium, one of two restricted addresses listed in the restraining order. Another hearing is scheduled for three days after the Minnesota-Rutgers game, and it’s possible the restraining order could be modified or overturned at that time.

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