Sub QB Keys Gopher Win
September 14, 2013

Despite the first-half loss of its coach and starting quarterback, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers managed to turn a one-point lead into an eventual 29-12 victory over Western Illinois at TCF Bank Stadium on September 14 before a crowd announced at 42,127.

Gopher coach Jerry Kill went down with an epileptic seizure as the half came to a close. Earlier, sophomore QB Philip Nelson was sidelined with a hamstring injury and replaced bt freshman Mitch Leidner. Nelson departed after gaining 16 yards on 6 carries and completing 3 of 4 passes.

Western Illinois put the game’s first points on the board with a Trenton Norvell touchdown pass to Mason Hovington. A surprise two-point conversion attempt went for naught, and the Leathernecks led 6-0 at the end of the first quarter. Minnesota did not get on the scoreboard until 4 minutes and 27 seconds left in the first half. Rodrick Williams scored on a 1-yard run, and a Chris Hawthorne PAT gave the Gophers a 7-6 lead, one the team maintained until the half.

Coach Kill’s seizure occurred as his team was departing to exit the playing field. It was the third such on-the-field event in three years for the coach since he took over the reins of the Gopher program. He was rushed to the nearby hospital for examination and then sent home.

Meanwhile, his team fell behind 12-7 after a Norvell touchdown pass to Lance Lenoir. A poor punt by Leatherneck Nate Knuffman gave Minnesota excellent field position on the Western Illinois 25-yard line. It took Leidner 5 plays before David Cobb crossed the goal line to make it 13-12. A Leidner pass completion to Logan Hutton in the end zone resulted in a 2-point conversion and a 15-12 Gopher lead.

From there, Minnesota’s size advantage and sheer number of available players wore down the Western Illinois defense.

“That’s what you should do,” said Gopher coordinator Tracy Cleays after the game. “We have more scholarship players than Western Illinois.” Cleays was designated by Kill to be the Gophers’ post-game spokesman.

In the fourth quarter, another Cobb touchdown run and subsequent PAT gave Minnesota a 22-12 lead. A 26-yard punt set up a 37-yard touchdown run by Williams with the eventual result being a 29-12 win.

“Minnesota has a very good football team, said Bob Nielson, current coach of the Leathernecks and former head of UMD athletics. “Coach Kill and his staff have done a great job building a football team that is going to win a lot of games.

“I’m proud of our team. I thought our guys played exceptionally hard. We played well on defense for most of the game until close to the end. Poor field position changed everything for us.”

Claeys said he thought the Gophers “were very sound” in the second half of the game. “I was not disappointed in the first half, either. I am really pleased because I think we have made some progress defensively, and we are going to have to win games like that later on. We are learning how to finish games. If our players just do their jobs, things will work the way they’re supposed to.”

Kill’s seizure had a disturbing effect on his team. “We knew we had to make sure coach was okay,” said Minnesota defensive lineman Ra’shede Hageman. “Coach Kill is a very tough person, and he would want us playing well. We knew we had to come out [in the second half] and play hard.”

Claeys said the staff and players are prepared for Kill’s seizures, but “every time it happens, you learn something. This staff has been together for a long time. We know what to do in an emergency. None of us want to let coach down. He knows we will get the job done.”

Leidner finished the day completing 7 of 8 passes for 105 yards. He also rushed for a net 64 yards. “It was a good feeling to get on the field today. I had a good time out there, and it was even better when the offense started to pick up.”

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