Syracuse strikes late to top Gophers in Texas Bowl, 21-17

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A sloppy first half paved the way for an explosive second half in Friday night's Texas Bowl between the Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-5) and Syracuse Orange (7-6).

The biggest play of the game was a 70-yard punt return by Syracuse's Brisly Estime that put the Orange at Minnesota's 14-yard line with 1:44 left in the game. Three plays later Minnesota's 17-14 lead was a 21-17 deficit, and eventual loss.

The winning touchdown came on a 12-scramble by quarterback Terrell Hunt.

A pair of last gasp Hail Mary's fell incomplete and the Gophers lost a in a bowl game for a second consecutive year. The first attempt went right through tight end Drew Wolitarsky's hands and fell harmlessly to the end zone turf.

The first half of action was slow and sloppy. Minnesota and Syracuse combined for nine penalties, two turnovers and 10 points.

Philip Nelson started at quarterback for the Gophers, but after two ineffective drives he was replaced by Mitch Leidner, who didn't fare much better. The duo filled the first half stat sheet with overthrows and passes that bounced before they made it to the intended receiver.

A 41-yard field goal by Chris Hawthorne was all Minnesota could muster in the first half.

The biggest story of the first 30 minutes was Gophers head coach Jerry Kill, who started the game coaching from the press box, moved back down to the sideline for the second half. He had coached the previous six games from the press box after taking a leave of absence to gain better control of his epilepsy.

The Orange took a 14-3 lead with 2:37 to play in the third quarter on a five-yard rushing touchdown by Hunt.

Minnesota snapped a 13-quarter streak without a touchdown when Leidner connected with tight end Maxx Williams on a 20-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Gophers failed on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt.

Trailing 14-9, the Gophers forced Syracuse to punt and responded with lightning-quick, three-play, 74-yard drive that culminated with a deep 55-yard touchdown pass from Leidner to Wolitarsky.

Leidner then hit fullback Mike Henry on a pass for a two-point conversion, and a 17-14 lead.

Leidner finished 11-22 for 206 yards and two touchdowns.

Minnesota is now 0-21 when trailing at the half under Jerry Kill.

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