SU wins Texas Bowl thanks to stout defense and late score from Hunt

The Orange contained the Minnesota offense and did not allow a 100-yard rusher for the 13th-straight game. But it was the touchdown from Hunt in the last minute of the game that sealed the win.

It was another defensive battle for Syracuse in Houston as the Orange pulled out a fourth quarter win over Minnesota on Friday, beating the Gophers 21-17 at the 2013 Texas Bowl to remain perfect in its two bowl games ever played in Texas.

“Well you know they say, ‘Don’t mess with Texas,’ well ‘Don’t mess with Syracuse in Texas,’ is what we say,” said Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer jokingly after the game.

Similar to its close win over Boston College to secure a bowl trip, Syracuse rallied back from a late deficit to take the lead with just over a minute left in the game. 

Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt (10) brushes off Minnesota defensive lineman Theiren Cockran during the Orange's Texas Bowl victory 21-17 in Houston. (Photo: Mitchell Franz)

After missing a 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game, Syracuse was completely dependent on the defense to force a punt in order to get the ball back with three minutes on the clock.

Minnesota converted its first play of the drive for 15 yards, but the Orange defense held the Gophers to just five yards combined during the next two. On third down, defensive lineman Robert Welsh sacked Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner for a 5-yard loss, forcing the Minnesota to punt.

“There was a sense like, ‘We have to make a stop, they’re going to run the ball, so bring it,’” said defensive tackle Jay Bromley of the defensive mindset during the drive.

Wide reciever Brisly Estime received the punt and as he rushed forward, found a hole to his left that allowed him to break free and return the ball for 70 yards, the third longest punt return in Texas Bowl history.

“We punted the ball great, but we probably out punted our coverage,” Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said. “We were in spread punt and they tied one of our guys up and it was good execution on them and you just have to make sure when you kick the ball like that you have to have great coverage.”

With the return, quarterback Terrel Hunt and the Orange offense got the ball on Minnesota’s 14-yard line. After picking up seven yards on first down, the drive seemingly stalled as a false start penalty backed Syracuse up, making it 3rd-and-8 from the 12 yard line. And with almost a minute left in the game, Hunt kept the ball, dodged Minnesota’s blitz, and ran for his second rushing touchdown of the night, giving SU a 21-17 lead and all but securing the Orange’s third bowl win in four years.

Texas Bowl MVP Terrel Hunt (10) celebrates after a successful play during the Texas Bowl against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Houston. (Photo: Mitchell Franz)

“Anytime it’s in [Hunt’s] hand I know he will fall for extra yards and do what he was supposed to do,” running back Jerome Smith said. Smith and Hunt both rushed for 74 yards each on 15 and 16 carries, respectively.

The victory propels Syracuse to its second winning season in a row, finishing with at 7-6 in head coach Scott Shafer’s first season as head coach.  Projected to finish second to last in ACC standings before the season began, the Orange finished behind only top-ranked Florida State and Clemson.

“They doubted us from the start and we ended up in third behind the two best teams,” Hunt said.

The game started out slow for both teams, with neither managing a score in the first quarter, but Syracuse got into a rhythm early in the second to take the lead.

Jerome Smith capitalized on an 11-play, 80-yard drive to run in the game’s first touchdown from one yard out. Minnesota had an opportunity to equalize as the quarter ended, but settled for a Chris Hawthorne 41-yard field goal to go into halftime with the Orange up 7-3.

Syracuse scored again the third to go up 14-3, but Minnesota answered early in the fourth.  A failed two-point conversion attempt made the score 14-9.

Two minutes later though, the Gophers kept its rhythm going when redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner threw a 55-yard pass to wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky. Minnesota converted for two points and took the lead 17-14 with 12 minutes to go.

The defense effectively controlled Minnesota’s run game, continuing its streak of not giving up 100 yards to a single rusher. With that, Syracuse is the only team in the nation to boast that statistic.

Members of the Syracuse Orange football team raise their championship Texas Bowl trophy during the after game ceremony following their 21-17 defeat of Minnesota. (Photo: Mitchell Franz)

“We were the only team in the nation, there’s not one single other person that can say that,” Bromley said. “That’s an accomplishment for the ages.” 

After Hunt’s 12-yard run to take the lead, the Gophers had one last drive attempt that stalled and ended with two incomplete passes in the end zone.

“It would have been nice it we could’ve just knocked them out and won by 17 or something but that’s just not our way this year,” Scott Shafer said. “I think it’s kind of appropriate that we won in that fashion.”

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