MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After an intensely dramatic 15 minutes in which they watched their head coach convulse on the sidelines during a seizure and then get wheeled out of the stadium on a stretcher, the Minnesota Gophers still had to think about football for one final play.
A short while before, with just over two minutes to play and 89 yards away from a game-tying touchdown against North Dakota, Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray began guiding his team down the field with a mix of scrambles and short-yardage passes that inched Minnesota closer to the end zone.
Gray wiggled away from the defense three times on the final drive, scrambling for a total of 32 yards and getting out of bounds on the first two to keep the clock from winding too far down.
He gained 13 yards on his last carry, leaping to his feet after he was tackled in the middle of the field at the NMSU 25 and quickly ordered his teammates to line up so he could grab the snap and spike the ball.
Then, suddenly, Jerry Kill was writhing back and forth on the sideline, and everybody in the stadium stopped caring about the 20 seconds that remained.
“It was scary, but at the same time, we’ve been informed that it’s happened before,” Gophers running back Duane Bennett said. “So we pray that the best thing happens, that coach gets well soon. But as a player you’ve got to continue to have your focus on the field because we know coach Kill would want us to go out and execute, regardless of whether he’s still on the sidelines.”
The Gophers reconvened after Kill was rushed out on the stretcher, but Gray couldn’t make any more big plays happen. He misfired on his last three throws, the final one after Kill left the stadium, and time expired as the Aggies celebrated the program’s first win over a Big Ten team in history.
“It was tough, but we had to come out there and finish the game,” receiver DaJon McKnight said. “We know that Kill would want us to score and try to win the game, so we tried to do that for him. Unfortunately we didn’t, but we gave it our all.”
That final, unsuccessful drive will be what everyone who watched the game remembers most about it. Not for the football, though.
Now, stuck with their first 0-2 record since 1992, the Gophers must now try to escape this early hole — while their head coach recuperates and attempts to get ready to work a game again.
“For us coaches, we kind of know what we need to get things done to make sure the ship stays on course, so to speak,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said.
Through two games, Gray has shown his share of ability — but just as many flaws. Several of the 16 passes he completed required a difficult catch by the receiver, and many of his 32 attempts were off the mark.
Freshman Max Shortell relieved him again this week, taking all three series in the third quarter, but offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said that was because Gray experienced cramping, just like he did at USC.
Shortell went just 2 for 7 for 27 yards, so the pressure on Gray this week to play better in order to keep his job doesn’t look as strong. But the Gophers need their new starting quarterback to keep making significant strides if they’re going to have any success this year.
Afterward, Limegrover said it was still too early to give a thorough evaluation of Gray, other than to reiterate that he wasn’t pulled from the game for his performance.
“Coach Kill talked about MarQuies was, and is, our starter,” Limegrover said.