DETROIT (AP) — Cooper Rush was being taken down from behind, so to avoid a sack, he tossed the ball toward a receiver.
"Looking back, probably should have just ate it," the Central Michigan quarterback said.
Rush’s risky pass was intercepted, and the Chippewas fell 21-14 to Minnesota on Monday night in the Quick Lane Bowl. It was a tough ending to a terrific season for Rush, who set CMU’s single-season record for yards passing.
Central Michigan (7-6) took a 14-13 lead with 11:08 remaining on a 13-yard touchdown run by Romello Ross. Minnesota responded by driving 74 yards in 13 plays, and quarterback Mitch Leidner ran 13 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:26 to play. Leidner then threw to KJ Maye for a 2-point conversion.
CMU drove back into Minnesota territory, but Rush’s ill-advised pass was picked off by Briean Boddy-Calhoun with 2:10 to play.
"We felt like we were right there," CMU coach John Bonamego said. "Just not enough at the end, a few too many mistakes, but Minnesota had a good plan, they executed it. They definitely deserved the win."
Minnesota (6-7) ended a trying season on a positive note. Coach Jerry Kill retired in late October because of continued difficulty managing his epilepsy and his job. The Gophers were 5-7 after the regular season but were able to play on because not enough teams reached six wins to fill all the bowls.
"We played by the rules," said Tracy Claeys, who took over as coach after Kill’s retirement. "If they don’t want 5-7 teams in the bowl, then change the rule, but right now that’s the rule."
All three teams that went to bowls at 5-7 — Minnesota, Nebraska and San Jose State — ended up winning.
Both Minnesota and CMU had to overcome plenty of adversity this season. Minnesota had to play on after Kill’s retirement. He was an honorary captain for the Gophers at the pregame coin toss Monday.
Bonamego was diagnosed with cancer in his left tonsil and underwent treatment before the season. That was a tough way for him to begin his first season at the helm at CMU.
"I’ll always remember our seniors and how they bought in from day one and worked," Bonamego said. "Coaching changes and transitions are tough on programs."
Rush ran for the game’s first touchdown Monday, scoring from 1 yard out to give CMU a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. The Gophers took a 10-7 lead into halftime thanks to an 11-yard touchdown pass from Leidner to Maye.
It was 13-7 in the third when an onside kick by Minnesota was unsuccessful, giving the Chippewas the ball at midfield. CMU wasn’t able to do anything with that field position, but after a failed fourth down by Minnesota early in the fourth, the Chippewas went 56 yards in four plays.
CMU took the lead on the run by Ross. Minnesota appeared to have him stopped at about the 3-yard line, but the Chippewas were able to push the pile into the end zone.
Ross ran for 100 yards on 19 carries, but Rush was pretty well contained. He went only 15 of 29 for 145 yards with an interception.
Last season, CMU scored on a lateral-filled play as time expired in the Bahamas Bowl, although the Chippewas lost to Western Kentucky when they went for 2 and didn’t convert. This year, Central Michigan had the ball at its own 30 with 4 seconds to play, but the game ended when Rush was sacked by De’Vondre Campbell.
The announced attendance was 34,217 despite a winter storm that was passing through Michigan. Having a local team surely helped boost the number of fans. Last year’s game between North Carolina and Rutgers drew 23,876.