It took a last-minute 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive and a fumble recovery in overtime to give the Gophers their first win of the season.
On the road against Colorado State University, Minnesota struggled at times to produce any offense whatsoever.
But the team’s defense kept the score close, until kicker Ryan Santoso hit a game-winning field goal in overtime to put the Gophers on top 23-20.
“The kids never gave in and kept fighting,” head coach Jerry Kill told reporters after the game. “And, as I told them, they will look back at this, and maybe a win will turn a lot of things around. You got to win on the road, and it’s not always pretty.”
Santoso was put in prime position for the 18-yard kick after a fumble by Colorado State running back Dalyn Dawkins, forced by linebacker Cody Poock.
“When I saw the throw, I broke on the ball, and I was thinking, ‘Just hit him as hard as you can,’ ” Poock told reporters after the game.
The Rams were up 17-13 for a majority of the fourth quarter, until redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Leidner found wide receiver KJ Maye for a 22-yard touchdown pass with only 55 seconds remaining.
“I walked into huddle and said to the guys, ‘Here it is; let’s make it happen,’” Leidner told reporters. “Luckily, having a player like KJ to make the play is huge.”
Colorado State then sent the game into overtime by countering the late-game charge with a 55-yard, seven-play drive. It resulted in a 37-yard field goal to tie the contest at 20 apiece.
Minnesota’s offense started the game slow, failing to pick up a first down until halfway through the second quarter. The team’s first six possessions had five three-and-outs and a drive that ended on four plays with a fumble on the fourth down.
“[Converting third and fourth downs] is always a thing offensively that you want to be trying to be great at, but you know a lot of them today we missed,” Leidner told reporters after the game. “It cannot happen, but we will keep getting better.”
The Gophers trailed at halftime 7-6, with their only points coming from a pair of Santoso field goals.
Leidner — and most of the Gophers passing game — had a rough day. The quarterback set a career high in passing attempts with 45 but only completed 23. He finished with 233 passing yards and 47 rushing yards and threw no interceptions.
The Gophers did receive two standout performances, however, from redshirt freshman running back Rodney Smith and junior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky.
Smith followed up his breakout performance against No. 3 TCU with 108 yards on 21 carries.
Wolitarsky caught nine passes for 114 yards and scored a touchdown early in the third quarter to make the score 13-7.
Colorado State’s offense struggled through parts of the game as well. The Rams’ starting quarterback Nick Stevens had 51 passing yards on 19 attempts and two interceptions. He was replaced by backup Coleman Key near the end of the third quarter.
Key’s second throw of the game was a 49-yard pass to senior Joe Hansley, which gave the Rams a 17-13 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
“[The quarterback change] did not surprise us. It did not affect us a lot,” Kill told reporters after the game. “They did a few things and made a big play.”
The Rams scored first on a drive powered by Dawkins, who had 54 yards and a touchdown on the team’s second possession.
The Gophers were able to limit Dawkins and the Rams offense for most of the game afterwards, despite not receiving much help from their offense.
The defense caught a break with Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins sitting out due to an ankle injury. He led the nation last year with 1,750 receiving yards. His backup, Jordon Vaden, left the game early in the first quarter with an injury of his own.
Minnesota was also playing through injuries, as starting safety Damarius Travis was out. After the game, Kill expressed concerns to reporters about Maye’s health, as he was not able to play in overtime.
“They were without players, and we were without key players,” Kill told reporters. “[I’m] proud of the players. This game is [about] more than just football; it’s about life, and this is a lesson about never giving up and fighting back.”