Gophers edge Hawkeyes in thriller
Beating Iowa was so nice that Minnesota celebrated twice.
From the punishing ground game to the trophy-takeover sprints to the Hawkeyes sideline, the Gophers finished a rough season by running over and around their rivals.
Duane Bennett's touchdown run with 4:31 left lifted Minnesota to 27-24 victory Saturday over 24th-ranked Iowa. The Hawkeyes lost another fourth-quarter lead and left the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy with the Gophers for the first time in four years.
Iowa is one of four teams Minnesota plays for traveling trophies. The Gophers seniors had to wait until their final game to get one, but they euphorically picked up the bronze pig these teams play for each fall and paraded it through their parents, friends and fans in a chaotic scene afterward.
''You only can dream and imagine things like that,'' said quarterback Adam Weber, who started all 50 games of his career. ''I've seen it before. I've seen it on TV, but to finally be a part of it is really something special. I'm still kind of floating right now.''
Thinking the game was over, the Gophers rushed across the field for the prize, only to be sent back because the Hawkeyes called timeout with 35 seconds left with the Gophers on their 25. Then after the last snap, they got to storm the other side again.
''I realized I probably couldn't lift it, so I let the other guys do it,'' said Weber, who watched the Gophers get shut out by the Hawkeyes in each of their last two meetings.
DeLeon Eskridge had 95 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries for Minnesota (3-9, 2-6 Big Ten), which outmuscled Iowa on both sides of the ball. The Hawkeyes, who came into the game ranked sixth nationally among FBS teams in rushing defense, got beat up front by a Gophers team that entered second-to-last in the Big Ten on the ground.
''We knew what they were going to do, and we couldn't stop them,'' said safety Brett Greenwood.
The 216 yards rushing by the Gophers was a season high as well as the most allowed by the Hawkeyes this year.
''They got what they deserved today, and we also got what we deserved today,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Freshman Marcus Coker carried 21 times for 90 yards for Iowa (7-5, 4-4), which closed the regular season with three straight losses of four points or fewer.
After the Gophers went ahead, Coker broke free on first down at the Iowa 33, then started to brake near midfield where he was crushed by Troy Stoudermire, forcing the ball out and giving it to the Gophers at their 45. They moved forward and drained the clock, sealing the emotional victory.
Eskridge lost a fumble, forced by Broderick Binns and recovered by Brett Greenwood at the Iowa 30 near the end of the third quarter, and Ricky Stanzi marched the Hawkeyes forward for the go-ahead touchdown toss to Marvin McNutt. But the Gophers, buoyed by a comeback victory at Illinois two weeks ago, weren't deterred.
Interim head coach Jeff Horton, who took over when Tim Brewster was fired last month, was beaming when he walked into the interview room after the game.
''I'd like to announce that I've just accepted the head coaching job,'' Horton joked.
Bennett had 63 yards on 11 carries, and MarQueis Gray - also arguably the team's best wide receiver - scored on a 14-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Gray came in for Weber on third-and-4 late on the go-ahead drive, and - shuffling to his right - he made Adrian Clayborn whiff and bowled over Greg Castillo for a 6-yard gain and the crucial first down.
Then Bennett burst through the middle for the go-ahead score from 6 yards out.
The Gophers used their off week to get their offensive line healthy, bringing back senior starters right guard Matt Carufel and left tackle Dom Alford and having them clear big, off-tackle holes for Eskridge and Bennett. They went out with a bang.
''Not by any means, I'm not surprised. I got to work with those guys every day,'' Bennett said.
Stanzi, whose senior season has been his best statistically, ranking sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, finished 10 for 22 for 127 yards and two touchdowns. He also fumbled a snap at his own 22-yard line the Gophers turned into a touchdown three plays later.
''I haven't done enough to put us in a position to be successful,'' Stanzi said. ''There have been a lot of poorly thrown balls and a lot of miscommunication. That's inexcusable on my part.''
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos scored twice, including an 88-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, but the Hawkeyes fell to the Gophers for just the second time in the last 10 years.
The Hawkeyes have been only a couple of plays from still being in the national championship picture. Their five defeats have come by a total of 18 points, and all four of their Big Ten losses came when the Hawkeyes' veteran defense allowed late fourth-quarter drives.
The Hawkeyes will go to a bowl game, but it won't be where they wanted.
''We've got plenty to do this month. We need to improve in all areas, so this extra practice time will be needed,'' Ferentz said.