Gophers Shamed by Loss to South Dakota
September 11, 2010

In the week prior to Minnesota’s 41-38 loss to the South Dakota Coyotes—a team in only its third year in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) after moving up from the NCAA Division (formerly Division II)—Gophers head coach Tim Brewster told a story of a seven-year-old fan he took under his wing during the summer. After seeing the boy, Max, crying during a football camp, Brewster comforted the boy, only to be asked if the Gophers were going to be any better this year. After Minnesota’s opening-week win, 24-17 over Middle Tennessee State, Brewster called Max to crow about how his team dominated, especially in keeping possession for more than 45 minutes in the game. For that, all he got from the skeptical lad was, “Yeah, coach, but how about the passing game?”

Chances are that Max has left his phone off the hook after the debacle at TCF Bank Stadium. Talk of the “worst loss in the history of the program” abounded after the game. Fans over 40 will recall the 84-13 drubbing the Gophers suffered in 1983, but that was to a Nebraska team that nearly won the national championship that year. The Coyotes had played the first game against a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) the week before and were beaten by Central Florida 38-7.

Even a Gophers team that has struggled under Brewster—losing to North Dakota State in 2007 and barely beating South Dakota State last year—was expected to have an easy victory. Minnesota did outgain South Dakota, but its defense missed tackles and blew coverage, allowing junior quarterback Dante Warren to rush for 81 yards and pass for 352.

While giving the Coyotes credit, Brewster called it an “unacceptable loss” and said of “the depth of my disappointment, you can’t measure it.” In what has been a lament too often heard in the post-game interview room (which, on stadium tours, is even acknowledged as the “Excuse Room” by tour guides), Brewster said, “I didn’t get the job done with our team to get them prepared. . . . I should have done a better job of coaching today.”

The Gophers received the opening kickoff and drove inside the South Dakota 10 before settling for a 27-yard field goal by Eric Ellestad. The teams exchanged punts with the Coyotes getting the ball on the Minnesota 37 after Troy Stoudermire interfered with Jeremy Blount, who had called for a fair catch. Warren then connected on a long pass to Dustin Nowotny, who had beaten cornerback Michael Carter. Nowotny was initially credited with a touchdown, but a review indicated his knee was down in side the 1 yard line. On the next play, however, Chris Ganious ran it in and, with Kevin Robb’s point-after, South Dakota had a 7-3 lead.

South Dakota took over on downs at its own 30 with just over a minute left in the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, the Coyotes faced a third-and-goal from the Minnesota 14 when Will Powell beat the other Minnesota cornerback, Ryan Collado, in the end zone for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

Down by double digits, Minnesota responded with a 73-yard drive, capped by a 49-yard pass from Adam Weber to Troy Stoudermire to pull the Gophers back to a 4-point deficit.

Ellestad later missed a 48-yard field goal into the wind, and the Coyotes capitalized. On 3rd-and-13 at the Minnesota 26, Ganious took a screen passed and weaved through tacklers, as well as his own blockers for a touchdown that gave South Dakota a 21-10 with 1:51 left in the half.

Minnesota had a chance to get some points back, driving into South Dakota territory. Weber scrambled for a first down but was hit and fumbled at the 33 yard line with the Coyotes recovering and then running out the clock as the Gophers ran off the field to a fair amount of boos.

The Coyotes didn’t take long to increase their lead after taking the second-half kickoff. On the third play from scrimmage, at the South Dakota 39, Will Powell was wide open, taking Warren’s pass at the Minnesota 30 and running untouched into the end zone. Although the touchdown and extra point put South Dakota up by 18 points, the Coyotes were penalized 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff because of excessive celebration by Powell on the score.

Kicking off from the 15, Robb sailed his kick out of bounds, and the Gophers got the ball at South Dakota’s 45. DeLeon Eskridge covered much of the ground as the Gophers got to the 16, and Weber found MarQueis Gray in the end zone for a touchdown to bring Minnesota to within 28-17.

The Minnesota defense held, and the Gophers got the ball at their own 33. A pair of passes put the ball in Coyotes territory, and a pair of runs by Duane Bennett got the Gophers to the 26. Da’Jon McKnight then beat cornerback Chris Frierson and took a pass from Weber for a touchdown.

South Dakota displayed a knack for answering each time Minnesota got close. Warren connected twice with Powell and then scrambled for a gain of 16. After another pass to Powell, this one to the Minnesota 25, Warren rolled out and kept the ball, darting through a hole on the right side for a touchdown and a 34-24 lead.

Minnesota came back with a drive that left them with a 4th-and-3 at the South Dakota 25. Rather than try for a field goal into the wind, the Gophers tried a pitch to Bennett, who was taken down for a two-yard loss.

With a 10-point lead and just over 12 minutes left, the Coyotes were in control. However, Warren threw a pass directly into the arms of linebacker Mike Rallis at the South Dakota 30. Rallis returned the interception eight yards and then almost lost the ball with an errant attempted lateral that was actually a forward pass. The Gophers were fortunate to retain possession although were penalized five yards for Rallis’s pass.

Bennett made quick work of the drive, spinning and staying on his feet for a 25-yard gain to the 2 and then getting a yard apiece on the next two carries for a touchdown. The Gophers trailed by 34-31 with 10:16 left.

Warren and the Coyotes responded again. Tom Flanagan took a pass at his own 45 and ran another 10 yards for a 26-yard completion into Minnesota territory. A few plays later, the Coyotes faced a 4th-and-1 at the 36. Warren faked a handoff and then, evading a blitz, ran to the right side and had clear sailing down the sideline. Only Collado stood in his way, but Nowotny took out the Minnesota cornerback, allowing Warren to score and give South Dakota a 41-31 lead with seven-and-a-half minutes to play.

Needing two scores, the Gophers moved quickly, helped by a late-hit penalty on Frierson after Gray had taken an 8-yard pass from Weber. Later in the drive, Gray had a pass bounce out of his hands, leaving Minnesota with a 3rd-and-10 at the Coyotes 35. Weber scrambled and tried for a first down, but he was hit by Andrew Meier and lost the ball, with South Dakota’s Evan Capper recovering at the 26 yard line and under six minutes remaining.

Minnesota got the ball back and mounted another drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown run by Bennett to make the score 41-38 for South Dakota with 3:21 left. Although they had only one timeout remaining, the Gophers eschewed an onside kickoff. Brewster was convinced the defense could hold and confident that, if his team got the ball back, it could win.

South Dakota faced a 3rd and 4 at its 38 yard line when Warren hit Nowotny with a slant pass for a first down. From there, the Coyotes were able to run out the clock.

For the game, Warren completed 21 of 30 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns. With his 81 yards on the ground, he was the only rusher in double digits in rushing. Bennett led Minnesota rushers with 110 yards while Eskridge and Weber each rushed for 50. Weber was 21 for 31 for 258 yards passing.

Powell was the top receiver for South Dakota, catching 8 passes for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns. For Minnesota, Gray had 9 receptions for 91 yards.

For Minnesota, the schedule only gets tougher. Next up for the Gophers is the University of Southern California.

Gopher Holes: The last time South Dakota beat the Gophers, by a score of 10-0, was in 1912. The last time the teams met was in 1930, with the Gophers winning 59-0.

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