Houston • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer wishes his team could have held its big lead over Minnesota and cruised to an easy win in the Texas Bowl on Friday night.
But he found it fitting that the Orange had to eke out the victory considering the number of close games they played this season.
Terrel Hunt scrambled 12 yards for a touchdown with 1:14 remaining to lift Syracuse to a 21-17 victory 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.”
Brisly Estime set up Hunt’s touchdown with a 70-yard punt return. Estime would have scored if not for a tackle by punter Peter Mortell.
“Brisly is a quick as a jitterbug,” Shafer said. “We felt that he could give us something.”
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 2-point conversion to put the Gophers up 17-14.
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 near the end zone. 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 and second straight in this bowl.
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.”
Hunt finished with 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.
Syracuse attempted a 45-yard field goal with about 3½ minutes left, but it sailed wide right. Robert Welsh sacked Leidner on third down on the next drive to force a punt and set up the winning drive.
Syracuse 21, Minnesota 17
Syracuse 0 7 7 7 — 21
Minnesota 0 3 0 14 — 17
Syr • Smith 1 run (Norton kick), 10:04.
Minn • FG Hawthorne 41, :00.
Syr • Hunt 5 run (Norton kick), 2:57.
Minn • Williams 20 pass from Mi.Leidner (pass failed), 14:55.
Minn • Wolitarsky 55 pass from Mi.Leidner (Henry pass from Mi.Leidner), 12:34.
Syr • Hunt 12 run (Norton kick), 1:14.
Attendance • 32,327.
First downs 23 19
Rushes-yards 46-208 38-127
Passing 188 223
Comp-Att-Int 19-29-0 13-30-0
Return Yards 83 (-2)
Punts-Avg. 4-43.0 6-47.7
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 9-53 8-65
Time of Possession 29:47 30:13
Rushing • Syracuse, Hunt 15-74, Smith 16-74, G.Morris 8-33, Gulley 4-16, Estime 1-9, Loeb 1-5, McFarlane 1-(minus 3). Minnesota, Cobb 18-91, Mi.Leidner 13-24, Nelson 2-14, Kirkwood 4-6, Fruechte 1-(minus 8).
Passing • Syracuse, Hunt 19-29-0-188. Minnesota, Mi.Leidner 11-22-0-205, Nelson 2-7-0-18, Team 0-1-0-0.
Receiving • Syracuse, Estime 5-47, West 5-38, Broyld 4-41, Clark 3-36, Smith 1-18, Gulley 1-8. Minnesota, Williams 5-76, Wolitarsky 4-94, Fruechte 3-41, Cobb 1-12.