HOUSTON – Syracuse coach Scott Shafer wishes his team could have held its big lead over Minnesota and cruised to an easy victory in the Texas Bowl on Friday night.
But he found it fitting the Orange had to eke out the victory considering the number of close games it played this season.
Terrel Hunt scrambled 12 yards for a touchdown with 1:14 remaining to lift Syracuse to a 21-17 decision over the Golden Gophers.
“It would have been nice if we could have just knocked them out and won by 17 or something,” Shafer said. “That’s kind of not our way this year. I think it was appropriate that we won in that fashion.”
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Brisly Estime set up Hunt’s touchdown with a 70-yard punt return. Estime probably would have scored if not for a tackle by punter Peter Mortell. It was the second-longest punt return in Texas Bowl history.
“We probably out-punted our coverage,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said.
Syracuse (7-6) led 14-3 entering the fourth quarter before Mitch Leidner threw two touchdown passes and a two-point conversion to put the Gophers up 17-14 with 12:34 remaining.
After the Orange regained the lead, Minnesota attempted two long passes to the end zone on the final plays. The first slipped through Drew Wolitarsky’s arms and the second, as time expired, was knocked down.
Minnesota (8-5) got a boost to start the second half when Kill returned to the sideline for the first time since Sept. 28 before Syracuse came back to send the Gophers to their sixth consecutive bowl loss.
Kill began the game in the press box, where he has observed his team since returning from a leave of absence because of epilepsy. Kill has had five seizures on game day in two-plus seasons at Minnesota. He took the leave of absence in October and returned a couple of weeks later.
“I felt I would do anything I can to help,” Kill said about joining his team on the sideline. “I’m not sure if it helped or not. Evidently, it didn’t because we didn’t win the game.”
Wolitarsky said, “Coming into halftime, I felt like everything was a little flat and he gave us that spark, which is another reason why we came out and started executing better.”
Hunt had 188 yards passing and 74 rushing with two scores to earn most valuable player honors — and a 10-gallon cowboy hat.
Leidner finished with 205 yards passing, Maxx Williams had five receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown, and Wolitarsky had 94 yards receiving and a score.
The Gophers took their first lead when Syracuse bit on a play-action fake that left Wolitarsky wide open for a 55-yard touchdown pass that made the score 15-14 early in the fourth quarter. Leidner then connected with Mike Henry for the two-point conversion.