Texas Tech 44
By Don Williams
TEMPE, Ariz. - Being a lower-tier game around the Christmas holidays, the Insight Bowl never has been a big draw in Arizona. Having been played for 19 years in three cities, it's yet to attract a crowd of 50,000.
Insight Bowl teams have produced some dandies for television, however, none more so than the one Friday.
Texas Tech set an NCAA record for biggest comeback in a bowl game, beating Minnesota 44-41 on Shannon Woods' 3-yard run in overtime (video). The Red Raiders trailed 38-7 in the second half and didn't get even until Alex Trlica kicked a career-long 52-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.
It was enough to make the Raiders swarm the Sun Devil Stadium field - not to mention make coach Mike Leach choke up - and with good reason. The previous largest deficit made up in a bowl game was 30 points, that by Marshall in a 64-61 double-overtime victory against East Carolina in the 2001 GMAC Bowl.
"I think anybody on this team that doesn't believe it's worth the investment to play all 60 minutes ... It's a clear message for that,'' said Leach, who was emotional in the post-game. "I think as a program, we need to draw on it and never forget it.''
Minnesota got the ball first in overtime. Joel Monroe's 32-yard field goal gave the Golden Gophers a 41-38 lead - and ended a run of 31 unanswered points by Tech (8-5). When Tech got the ball, Graham Harrell threw for 12 and 6 yards to Joel Filani on back-to-back plays to move the Red Raiders to the Minnesota 7.
On the second play after an offside penalty, Woods ran up the middle behind a block from center Brandon Jones to give Tech its only lead in a crazy game. The outcome stunned not only the crowd of 48,361 but also the Gophers (6-7), who appeared to have Tech knocked out when they led 35-7 at halftime.
"We kept slugging away in the second half and put ourself in position to win it,'' said Leach, whose team won its fourth bowl game in five years. "It's a hell of an effort by those guys. Great effort.''
Tech's previous biggest comeback had been to wipe out a 25-point deficit - 30-5 in a 31-30 victory two years ago at Kansas.
Tech cornerback Antonio Huffman, who had an interception, nine tackles and two pass breakups, was named the defensive player of the game. Harrell was named the offensive player of the game after completing 36 of 55 passes for 445 yards. He passed for two touchdowns and ran for one - all in the frantic final 20 minutes of regulation.
"You never feel like you're going to run out of time with this offense,'' said Harrell, who also led comeback victories this year at Texas-El Paso and Texas A&M. "We feel we can move the ball the length of the field in no time.''
Tech scored six touchdowns and a field goal on its last seven full possessions, not counting the one when the Raiders had the ball as time ran out in the first half. Their third- and fourth-quarter scoring drives covered 76, 61, 63, 56 and 53 yards - none lasting three minutes.
Leach said anyone doubting their chances could have wrecked the Raiders' comeback, but he said they all believed it was still a game at halftime.
"I felt like our players and coaches were really committed to win this game, to playing well the second half,'' Leach said. "I'm proud of them to be able to do that. At times this season, we haven't played as well as a team as we would have liked. This was one of the greatest (examples of) playing together as a team that I've been part of.''
Woods ran for 109 yards and three short touchdowns.
Minnesota wore out Tech with its running game and play-action passing in the first half and started the second half the same way, driving 16 plays and consuming more than seven minutes until Monroe's 20-yard field goal made it 38-7.
"You don't really want to say so,'' Minnesota linebacker Mike Sherels said, "but you kind of feel that everybody was on cloud nine. In retrospect, it was definitely a mistake on our part to think we had the game won at that point.''
Tech's comeback began with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Filani at the 4:58 mark of the third quarter and an 8-yard scoring strike to Robert Johnson on the first play of the fourth period.
The Raiders kept coming: Harrell sneaked a yard with 7:49 to go in regulation, pulling Tech to 38-28, and Woods went over from a yard out at the 2:39 mark to make the margin a field goal.
There was still plenty of work to do. After a failed onside kick, the Tech defense got a stop. But after they got the ball back on a punt, the Raiders had no timeouts left and the ball at their own 12 with 1:05 to go. They worked the sidelines to perfection, however, and got a couple of breaks with 9-yard plays that required measurements.
Johnson ran out of bounds after catching a pass for 21 yards, and Ed Britton did the same after pulling in a pass for 14. Only 17 seconds remained when Tech had the ball at the Minnesota 49, but Filani got out of bounds after catching a pass for 5 yards.
A 9-yard completion got the Raiders into position with five seconds left to give Trlica a prayer of a shot - the junior's previous long was 49 yards. His 52-yarder had plenty of leg and was on target (video).
Trlica beat UTEP this season with a 49-yard field goal in overtime, that after he had missed a 34-yarder in the fourth period and a 51-yarder as regulation expired.
"I definitely think the UTEP experience helped me,'' Trlica said, "because I felt a lot more comfortable out there this time.''
Tech finished with 548 yards, and Minnesota had 458. Amir Pinnix, the Gophers' 11th 1,000-yard rusher in eight years, pounded out 179 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. Quarterback Bryan Cupito, in his last college game, hit 19 of 31 passes for 263 yards and three TDs.
The Raiders were wary of the Gophers' play-action passing game and, as it turned out, they had good reason. Cupito froze the Raiders several times by faking to Pinnix, then pulling out and passing. Backup tight end Jack Simmons, playing for injured All-American Matt Spaeth, finished with seven catches for 134 yards and a TD.
Simmons, a sophomore, came in with career totals of 10 catches for 95 yards, all this season. He caught passes for 13, 22, 26, 38 and 23 yards.
It was all Minnesota in the first half, and Tech stumbled out of the gate looking like the program once known for blowout losses in bowl games.
Early on, Harrell was stopped on fourth-and-1 in his own territory, threw an interception and lost a fumble - all breakdowns that led to Minnesota touchdowns. Minnesota led the nation in turnover margin this season, so it was no big surprise.
The surprise was that the Gophers' 115th-ranked pass defense kept Tech's seventh-ranked passing game in check ... up to a point. Harrell had 288 passing yards after the break.
"With the exception of the opening drive of the second half, we struggled on offense, we struggled on defense, gave up a big punt return,'' Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "When we needed to make a play, we just couldn't do it.''
Filani, playing his final game just minutes from where he grew up in a Phoenix suburb, finished with 11 catches, an Insight Bowl record, for 162 yards. He also set a school single-season record for receiving yardage with 1,300. That broke the mark of 1,261 by Lloyd Hill in an 11-game season.
The Insight Bowl is on a roll: Tech's record comeback followed on the heels of Arizona State's 45-40 victory against Rutgers last year and California edging Virginia Tech 52-49 three years ago.
Cupito's and Harrell's fortune were going in opposite directions in the first half.
|Simmons (left) and Payne (right) each had a scoring reception for the Gophers in the first half.|
Woods touchdown run was the lone bright spot for Tech in the first half.
Trlica connected from 52 to send it to OT.
Woods is under the pile somewhere and Tech are miraculous Insight Bowl champions for 2006.
UM- Simmons 2 yard pass from Cupito (Monroe kick)
UM- Pinnix 2 run (Monroe kick)
UM- Valentine 1 run (Monroe kick)
UM- Wheelwright 14 yard pass from Cupito (Monroe kick)
TT- Woods 1 run (Trlica kick)
UM- Payne 3 yard pass from Cupito (Monroe kick)
UM- FG Monroe 20
TT- Filani 43 yard pass from Harrell (Trlica kick)
TT- Johnson 8 yard pass from Harrell (Trlica kick)
TT- Harrell 1 run (Trlica kick)
TT- Woods 1 run (Trlica kick)
TT- FG Trlica 52
UM- FG Monroe 32
TT- Woods 3 run
TT- Woods 19-109
UM- Pinnix 34-179, Thomas 6-21
TT- Harrell 36-55-445
UM- Cupito 19-31-263
TT- Filani 11-162, R.Johnson 9-97, T.Walker 5-68, G.Walker 3-34, Woods 3-19, Morris 2-31
UM- Simmons 7-134, Wheelwright 4-45, Payne 3-18, Decker 2-41, Pinnix 2-14