(DETROIT, MI) – In front of an announced attendance of 34,217, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are the 2015 winners of the Quick Lane Bowl, after a wild 21-14 victory over the Central Michigan Chippewas. Despite the 7-point victory, the game was far from decided until the final five minutes, at Ford Field in Detroit.
On the Gophers opening drive they took the ball from their 20 and Rodney Smith rushed up the middle for 37 yards, which put the scare into the crowd partial to CMU. Junior QB Mitch Leidner directed the push deep into Chippewa territory where it stalled in the red zone on the 5-yard line. Ryan Santoso connected on the field goal from the 22 to put Minnesota up by 3.
The Chippewas and the Gophers alternated the next three possessions with both Leidner and CMU QB Cooper Rush directing their offenses to an identical 84 total yards. Gophers led 3-0 at the end of 15, but CMU was knocking on the door at the 1-yard line.
On the first play of the 2nd quarter, Rush kept the ball and snuck over the goal line for the game’s first major. Not to be outdone, the injured Leidner completed three passes including an 11-yard strike to KJ Maye to put Minnesota back on top, 10-7.
The rest of the half was a series of possessions that didn’t go anywhere. Leidner established the Gophers’ passing game by completing 10 of 12 for 87 yards and one pick. The ground game for Minnesota was also a potent threat in the form of Rodney Smith. The Gopher tailback picked up 61 of the 101 turf yards on 10 carries.
Minnesota added an early 3rd quarter field goal to go up 13-7 to start the second half. It was also the only scoring of the quarter as time wound down on a punt return, leaving the Gophers at their own 48.
In the 4th quarter, Leidner ran off 2:02 from the clock before CMU took over on downs from their 44. After a Rush completion to Corey Willis for 21 yards, running back Romello Ross took over. He took three straight carries for 35 yards, culminating in a 13-yard touchdown and putting CMU up by 1-point, 14-13.
“Obviously, a very talented young player, had a great game against Eastern Michigan,” said Chippewas head coach John Bonamego of Ross. “He’s a true freshman, we’ve got him for three more years. He’s only going to continue to improve and get better. I’m very proud of him and he’s a Chippewa.”
Faced with a surging Chippewa squad, Leidner directed the Gophers with 11:02 left to play. The QB went 6 for 7, as well as handing off to Smith twice and once to Shannon Brooks, before he ran 13 yards up the middle for a major score. Leidner then connected with Maye on the 2-point conversion with just 4:26 left.
“You get in ball games like that and it gets tight at the end, you’ve got to have a play to win and your leaders do that,” said Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys. “Mitch [Leidner] has stepped up and done that several times this year.”
When Rush was intercepted by corner back Briean Boddy-Calhoun at the Minnesota 35, it was just a matter of Leidner running out the clock for the win.
“No. 80 [Anthony Rice], he was getting me all night,” explained Boddy-Calhoun. “He was really good receiver and I had a hard time kind of pressing him and on that one I just had to settle down and unfortunately the play broke down and next thing I know I saw the ball in the air.”
For his part, Rush considered the option of taking the sack without making the throw.
“I don’t know, I should have, looking back, looked for the 4th-and-14 or 15 or something, but just trying to make a play,” Rush said. “Looking back, probably should have just ate it. But he made a hell of a play.”
Leidner led in the passing race with 24 completions on 30 attempts, and one interception, for 223 yards. On the ground the Gophers picked up 158 net yards with Smith accounting for 74. For the Chippewas, Rush racked up 145 passing yards on 15 for 29, and the fatal pick. Ross as the big gainer on the ground with 100 yards and a TD.
Leidner was named the game’s MVP for his performance.
“He was a little mad at me, probably, because we held him out of reps in practice and he likes to take every rep in practice,” said Claeys. “But with his injury, he needed to take a little bit of rest and I think he’ll admit it did him some good.”
For more photos from the Quick Lane Bowl, click here.