Gophers victorious in Kill’s return
MINNEAPOLIS -- Zac Dysert’s pass floated toward the end zone as the clock hit :00 with Chris Givens waiting in the end zone for the game-winning score.
Minnesota safety Kim Royston swooped in to knock it away at the last second, spoiling what would have been an incredible comeback for Dysert and Miami (Ohio).
Dysert threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns, but his 20-yard pass to Givens at the buzzer was incomplete, and the RedHawks fell to Minnesota 29-23 on Saturday.
“Those kinds of opportunities and situations don’t come around often,” Dysert said. “They’re definitely learning experiences.”
Dysert completed 27 of 47 passes for his seventh career 300-yard game and Nick Harwell caught 12 passes for 162 yards in his first game of the season after missing the opener for a violation of team rules.
But Golden Gophers quarterback Marqueis Gray racked up 334 total yards -- 171 on the ground and 163 through the air -- to help lift Minnesota (1-2) to an emotional victory one week after coach Jerry Kill collapsed on the sidelines with a seizure in the closing moments of a loss to New Mexico State.
The RedHawks also botched an extra point and had a punt blocked and returned for a score to lose their 15th straight non-conference road game.
“We had some opportunities, and I think when you’re in a game with a Big Ten opponent and you’re driving the ball down the field and you still have a chance to win, that is a positive,” first-year coach Don Treadwell said.
Miami was down 29-16 with 10:30 to play after Minnesota running back Duane Bennett blocked Zac Murphy’s punt and recovered it in the end zone.
Dysert drove Miami 80 yards in 2:34 on the next possession, scrambling and finding Dawan Scott wide open in the end zone for a 26-yard TD pass to get them back in it.
The Gophers went for it on fourth and 9 from the Miami 34, but Gray’s pass fell incomplete. Dysert took over, quickly moving the RedHawks down the field and converting a fourth-and-10 to keep the drive alive.
But Royston saved the day for the Gophers, getting just enough of his hands on Dysert’s pass to the corner of the end zone to keep Givens from holding on.
“It’s always going to bother you that you didn’t come out on the victory side, but we played a good team tonight that played very inspired,” Treadwell said.
Kill was in the hospital most of the week and didn’t rejoin the team until Thursday. He’s had a history of seizures, but last week was the first time his new Minnesota team had witnessed one, and it shook his players to the core.
Kill had never missed a game because of a seizure before, and he wasn’t about to let that happen this time with his team struggling at 0-2.
“I’ve said all along, I’m a small-town guy that’s been given a great life and I’m going to live it to its fullest,” said Kill, who beat kidney cancer earlier in his coaching career. “I’ve been given a second chance and I’m not taking any shortcuts. I’m not going to have somebody tell me I can’t do something.”
The RedHawks, who beat Kill’s Northern Illinois team in the MAC championship game last year, gave the Gophers all they could handle on Saturday.
Erik Finklea’s 1-yard TD plunge late in the first half cut Minnesota’s lead to 13-10 at the break.
After Chris Hawthorne’s 26-yard field goal gave Minnesota a 16-10 early in the third quarter, Dysert hit Chris Givens on a 7-yard fade into the end zone to tie the game. But the snap on the extra point bounced in front of the holder Dysert, preventing Miami from taking the lead.
“We’ve got some youth in those areas and we’ll continue to iron out what didn’t work,” Treadwell said.
Gray used his arm in the first half, completing eight of his first nine passes for 146 yards. He used his legs in the second half to keep the Gophers offense moving.
He had a 20-yard run and two 14-yarders in the third quarter, often taking off after seeing his first read on a pass was covered. On third-and-goal from the 1, Gray threw a touchdown to John Rabe for a 23-16 lead just as the fourth quarter began.
“It’s tough to play a guy like that who can break tackles like that with such a big body,” safety Anthony Kokal said. “You try to prepare for it but you don’t know what you’re going to get until it’s gameday.”