It wasn’t a marquee bowl game, but that does not matter to the Minnesota Golden Gophers or their former and current coach. The first-year coach of the Central Michigan Chippewas was grateful to play in the game for personal and professional reasons.
Minnesota, losers of their last even bowl games, came from behind, then hung on to beat the Chippewas 21-14 at Detroit’s Ford Field in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday. The two teams had fewer wins than top-ranked Clemson combined, but that did not matter.
Though the Quick Lane Bowl trophy does not carry the prestige of some of the major bowls, the teams showed that it was important for them to win it for themselves and those who coached them. Just to get to Monday’s game, both teams dealt with health issues with their head coaches.
Minnesota’s Jerry Kill, who led the Gophers back to respectability during his tenure, retired in midseason after his epileptic seizures returned. Tracy Claeys coached the team for the rest of the season including Monday’s game. Kill was named an honorary captain for the game.
Minnesota was one of this year’s 5-7 teams invited to a bowl game because there were not enough average teams. Two of those 5-7 teams were from the Big 10, Nebraska being the other, and both won their games. Nebraska upset UCLA 37-29 in Saturday night’s Foster Farms Bowl.
Before Central Michigan’s first year Coach John Bonamego could make plans to defeat opposing football teams, he had to beat cancer. When he could concentrate solely on football, he led his team to their first bowl appearance in four years.
The Chippewas won seven games in Bonemego’s first season and played top-ranked Michigan State and highly regarded Oklahoma State very tough in losses. They were enthused about playing in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush had failed to throw for 300 yards only four times in 12 games this season, but he was only able to collect a season-low 145 yards on Monday. On the positive side, freshman running back Romello Ross had a career high of 60 yards rushing by halftime. He finished with 100 for the game.
Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner threw for 223 yards and a touchdown, but with 4:26 remaining, he ran for a 13-yard touchdown that turned out to be the game winner. His pass to K.J. Maye for a 2-point conversion brought the Gophers from a 14-13 deficit to a 21-14 lead.
While driving for the tie, Rush was intercepted at the Minnesota 35-yard line with 2:10 left. After getting the ball back after a punt, Rush was sacked on the final play.
The victory was Minnesota’s first bowl victory since a 20-16 victory over Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl. Central Michigan can look toward next season under their second-year coach.
It stands to reason Kill and Claeys enjoyed the Quick Lane Bowl a little more than Bonemego. Going forward, Kill can now concentrate on his health and Bonemego can concentrate on football.
It’s all about priorities.