HOUSTON (AP) – Terrel Hunt scrambled 12 yards for a touchdown with 1:14 remaining to lift Syracuse to a 21-17 win over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl on Friday night.
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. It was the second-longest punt return in Texas Bowl history.
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 Golden 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 the arms of Drew Wolitarsky and the final Hail Mary as time expired was knocked down near the end zone.
Minnesota (8-5) got a boost to start the second half when coach Jerry Kill returned to the sideline for the first time since Sept. 28 before Syracuse rallied for the victory.
Hunt finished with 188 yards passing and 74 rushing with two scores.
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.
Kill began the Texas Bowl from the press box where he has observed his team since returning from a leave of absence because of his epilepsy. Kill has had five seizures on game day in his two-plus seasons with the Golden Gophers. He took the leave of absence in October and returned a couple of weeks later.
Syracuse attempted a 45-yard field goal with about 3 ½ 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.
The Gophers took their first lead of the game when Syracuse bit on a play-action fake that left Wolitarsky wide open for a 55-yard touchdown that made it 15-14 early in the fourth quarter. Leidner then hit Mike Henry for the 2-point conversion to push the lead to 17-14.
Players and coaches on the sidelines jumped around wildly after the touchdown, while Kill smiled and stood nearly still amid the chaos.
Hunt was penalized for intentional grounding on third down of the ensuing drive by Syracuse forcing a fourth-and-25 and a punt by the Orange.
Jerome Smith rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown for Syracuse and Estime had five receptions for 47 yards.
Minnesota got within 14-9 when Williams got in front of two defenders for a 20-yard touchdown reception from Leidner on the first play of the fourth quarter. It was their first touchdown on offense for since the second quarter of a 24-10 win over Penn State on Nov. 9. The Gophers attempted a 2-point conversion, but Leidner was sacked.
The Orange used a clock-eating 15-play drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by Hunt to push the lead to 14-3 with about three minutes left in the third quarter. Syracuse used run after run to pound the ball on that drive and had an 18-yard run by Smith and a 17-yard scamper by George Morris to keep it going.
Syracuse took a 7-0 lead when Smith scored on a 1-yard run early in the second quarter. That drive was helped by a nifty catch by Christopher Clark, who stretched out to grab a 19-yard reception with a defender in his face just before stepping out of bounds.
Minnesota cut the lead to 7-3 with a 41-yard field goal by Chris Hawthorne as time expired in the first half.