Minnesota trailed 6-3 when Washington State defensive back Marcellus Pippins tipped a Mitch Leidner pass straight to running back Shannon Brooks for a 13-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Minnesota’s defense held on to beat Washington State, 17-12, in the Holiday Bowl on Tuesday.
“I usually end up on the wrong side of those,” Leidner said. “We were getting heated and I thought I would let it rip and let it be Shannon’s ball or nobody’s ball, but that guy played a good play and tipped it into Shannon’s hands for me.”
Washington State could not get rolling on offense as the Gophers’ defense stifled the Cougars wide receivers. Minnesota defense didn’t give up any big plays while forcing the Cougars to throw the ball underneath.
“You’ve got to tackle well in space, and that credit goes to the kids,” Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys said. “We got them to dump the ball off in space and our guys ran and tackled extremely well.”
The Cougars took a 6-3 lead into halftime after 26 and 41-yard field goals by Erik Powell.
“I didn’t think we played well offensively at all,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “ I didn’t think we were mentally tough as far as allowing ourselves to get discouraged and, you know, we unraveled.”
Minnesota running back Rodney Smith added a 9-yard touchdown run to give the Gophers a 17-6 lead with 2:06 remaining in the fourth quarter. Smith finished with 77 yards on 17 carries.
Luke Falk hit wide receiver Kyle Sweets for an 8-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left in the game.
Minnesota ends the season with a record of 9-4. This is the first time the Gophers have won nine games in one season since 2003.
“We relish ’em all,” Claeys said on the bowl win. “It’s a great thing for everybody associated with the University of Minnesota.”