Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill returned to the sideline for the first time since September 28 and gave the Gophers an emotional boost, but Syracuse quarterback Terrell Hunt delivered the heroics with a late touchdown run up the middle with 1:14 to play. Hunt’s touchdown late in the fourth quarter gave Syracuse a 20-17 lead after being set up by a great punt return and the defense held on for the Teas Bowl victory by the same score.
Hunt passed for 188 yards and led the Orange with 74 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hunt’s second touchdown run of the game came on a third and long inside the red zone and took advantage of a Minnesota defense that was selling out on the pass and sucked in to coverage, leaving the middle of he field wide open. Advantage, Hunt.
Minnesota scored two touchdowns in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, both off the arm of quarterback Mitch Leidner, to turn a 14-3 deficit in to a 17-14 lead. Leidner’s first touchdown pass was a 20-yard pass to Maxx Williams and the second was a 55-yard strike down field to Drew Wolitarsky.
Syracuse had a chance to tie the game at 17-17 late in the fourth quarter, but a 44-yard field goal attempt by Riley Dixon sailed wide right. Minnesota’s ground game took over from there to run some clock, but Syracuse got one more chance and a great punt return by Brisly Estime put the Orange inside the red zone with time no longer a concern. Punter Peter Mortell did not get a great punt off his foot, but he did make what appeared to be a game-saving tackle. Minnesota’s defense came through with a defensive stand with their backs against the wall, but they could not keep Hunt from finding room right up the middle of the field as he ran in to the end zone for the late 20-17 lead.
Minnesota’s bowl losing streak extends to six games, with the last win coming in the 2004 Music City Bowl. Syracuse picked up their third straight bowl win over a four-year span. Syracuse had won two Pinstripe Bowls and joins ACC newcomer Pittsburgh by winning bowl game sin their first year in the ACC.
Despite the loss, Minnesota caps the most successful season under Kill by once again showing signs of improvement and a preview of things to come in 2014. The Gophers may not be a top Big Ten contender in 2014 but they will certainly not be a team that will be a pushover as they have been over the years for various programs. Next season the Gophers have a challenging Big Ten schedule with road games at Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin in addition to a home game against Michigan. Minnesota also returns to Texas for a road game against TCU in mid-September and they open at home against one of the top FCS programs this season, Eastern Illinois.
Syracuse will have some challenges coming their way in 2014 as well. The Orange will host Louisville and Florida State and Duke at home in ACC play and Syracuse travels to Clemson and Pittsburgh. In non-conference action Syracuse will play Notre Dame in MetLife Stadium and will host Maryland, who moves from the ACC to the Big Ten in 2014.