Redemption finally came for the Gophers.
After dropping 16 straight games to Michigan and failing to hold significant fourth-quarter leads in the last two meetings with the Wolverines, Minnesota recorded a dramatic 23-20 win over Michigan and won the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 1986.
Glen Mason had never beaten Michigan and was relieved, thrilled and grateful that his team was able to rally in the second half and beat their long-time tormentors.
When Jason Giannini connected on the game-winning field goal with one second to go and the Gophers stopped Michigan from working any miracle on the final kickoff, Mason wanted his players to go grab the trophy that has eluded Minnesota for so long. "Bring it over here," Mason said to his players. "I want to finally see what that thing looks like."
Winning gives coaches the opportunity to hold court.
The circumstances surrounding the winning points were curious. With the score tied late in the fourth quarter and the Gophers deep in their own territory, it appeared Minnesota was playing for overtime. QB Bryan Cupito had been knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury and backup Tony Mortensen was coming into a ferocious Michigan Stadium setting against a defense that was going to be coming after him. As a result, Mason had Mortensen hand the ball off to RBs Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell.
The Gophers running game had been solid against the Wolverines up to that point, but not spectacular. But on one play, Russell changed that. Taking a 3rd-and-10 handoff from Mortensen at the Gopher 26, Russell went 61 yards through the defense to set up Giannini's game-winning kick. The powerful Gophers offensive line won each and every battle on that play and all Russell had to do was wait for the right moment before exploding.
Prior to the play, Russell had no indication that he was about to gash the Wolverines defense. "I thought we were going to run the clock out so I had to keep two hands on the ball," Russell said.
While Minnesota got pounded Oct. 1 at Penn State, the Gophers have shown far more maturity this year in last-second wins over Purdue and Michigan. Mason will try to keep the momentum from those wins going in back-to-back home games against Wisconsin and Ohio State.
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Gary Russell — While he holds the No. 2 RB position behind Laurence Maroney, Russell carried 18 times for 128 yards vs. Michigan and had a 61-yard run late in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning field goal with one second to play.
KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Kyle McKenzie — He was not about to let Michigan get anything going offensively after watching his team suffer heartbreaking defeats to the Wolverines each of the last two years. He had 13 tackles and one pass defensed and hustled for 60 minutes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had to prove to ourselves as defensive players that against Penn State, that wasn't us. That was a fluke. We came out and played hard, that was our main goal, our main focus." — McKenzie on Minnesota's inspiration following a poor game vs. Penn State Oct. 1.
Win Sends Mason Some Satisfaction
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