Syracuse rallies late for 21-17 win over Gophers

Freshman Brisly Estime had returned just two punts this season

entering Friday night’s Texas Bowl.

Something told Syracuse coach Scott Shafer to give his offensive

coordinator George McDonald flexibility to mix things up in the

return game against Minnesota.

The move paid off when Estime returned a punt 70 yards to set up

the winning score in a 21-17 victory by Syracuse.

”Brisly is a quick as a jitterbug,” Shafer said. ”We felt

that he could give us something.”

Terrel Hunt scrambled 12 yards for a touchdown with 1:14

remaining to lift Syracuse to the win.

”It would have nice if we could have just knocked them out and

won by 17 or something,” Shafer said. ”That’s kind of not our way

this year. I think it was appropriate that we won in that

fashion.”

Estime would have scored on his punt return if not for a tackle

by punter Peter Mortell. It was the second-longest punt return in

Texas Bowl history.

”We probably out-punted our coverage,” Minnesota coach Jerry

Kill said.

Syracuse (7-6) led 14-3 entering the fourth quarter before Mitch

Leidner threw two touchdown passes and a 2-point conversion to put

the Gophers up 17-14.

After the Orange regained the lead, Minnesota attempted two long

passes to the end zone on the final plays. The first slipped

through Drew Wolitarsky’s arms and the second, as time expired, was

knocked down near the end zone.

Minnesota (8-5) got a boost to start the second half when Kill

returned to the sideline for the first time since Sept. 28 before

Syracuse came back to send the Gophers to their sixth consecutive

bowl loss and second straight in this bowl.

Kill began the game in the press box, where he has observed his

team since returning from a leave of absence because of epilepsy.

Kill has had five seizures on game day in two-plus seasons at

Minnesota. He took the leave of absence in October and returned a

couple of weeks later.

”I felt I would do anything I can to help,” Kill said about

joining his team on the sideline. ”I’m not sure if it helped or

not. Evidently, it didn’t because we didn’t win the game.”

Hunt finished with 188 yards passing and 74 rushing with two

scores to earn Most Valuable Player honors and a 10-gallon cowboy

hat.

Leidner finished with 205 yards passing, Maxx Williams had five

receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown and Wolitarsky had 94 yards

receiving and a score.

Syracuse attempted a 45-yard field goal with about 3 1/2 minutes

left, but it sailed wide right. Robert Welsh sacked Leidner on

third down on the next drive to force a punt and set up the winning

drive.

The Gophers took their first lead when Syracuse bit on a

play-action fake that left Wolitarsky wide open for a 55-yard

touchdown pass that made it 15-14 early in the fourth quarter.

Leidner then hit Mike Henry for the 2-point conversion to push the

lead to 17-14.

Players and coaches on the sideline jumped around wildly after

the touchdown, while Kill smiled and stood nearly still amid the

chaos.

Hunt was penalized for intentional grounding on third down of

the ensuing drive by Syracuse forcing a fourth-and-25 and a punt by

the Orange.

Jerome Smith rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown for Syracuse

and Estime had five receptions for 47 yards.

Minnesota cut it to 14-9 when Williams got in front of two

defenders for a 20-yard touchdown reception from Leidner on the

first play of the fourth quarter. It was their first touchdown on

offense since the second quarter of a 24-10 win over Penn State on

Nov. 9. The Gophers attempted a 2-point conversion, but Leidner was

sacked.

The Orange used a clock-eating 15-play drive capped by a 5-yard

touchdown run by Hunt to push the lead to 14-3 with about three

minutes left in the third quarter. Syracuse used run after run to

pound the ball on that drive and had an 18-yard run by Smith and a

17-yard scamper by George Morris to keep it going.

Syracuse took a 7-0 lead when Smith scored on a 1-yard run early

in the second quarter. That drive was helped by a nifty catch by

Christopher Clark, who stretched out to grab a 19-yard reception

with a defender in his face just before stepping out of bounds.

Minnesota cut it to 7-3 on Chris Hawthorne’s 41-yard field goal

as time expired in the first half.