MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jerry Kill sat down for his postgame press conference, completely exhausted from a trying week filled with seizures that kept him in the hospital until Thursday.
Even Kill’s wife, who has seen him go through the frightening episodes several times over the last six years, wasn’t so sure he should have taken the field with Minnesota just one week after collapsing on the sideline in a loss to New Mexico State.
“I’ve said all along, I’m a small-town guy that’s been given a great life and I’m going to live it to its fullest,” said Kill, who beat kidney cancer earlier in his coaching career. “I’ve been given a second chance and I’m not taking any shortcuts. I’m not going to have somebody tell me I can’t do something.”
Kill won his first game as coach of the Golden Gophers and Marqueis Gray racked up 334 total yards in a 29-23 victory over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.
Gray threw for 163 yards and rushed for 171 more and Duane Bennett blocked a punt and recovered in the end zone to hand Kill an emotional win.
Zac Dysert threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns and Nick Harwell had 12 catches for 162 yards for the RedHawks (0-2). Miami drove the ball to the Minnesota 20 in the closing moments, but Dysert’s pass to Chris Givens in the end zone was broken up as time expired.
Kill made it through the game without incident, a big relief after last week’s nightmare. He spent five days in the hospital, suffering several seizures during his stay, and didn’t rejoin the team until Thursday while doctors tried to find the right balance of medication to control it.
He spoke to longtime assistants Tracy Claeys and Matt Limegrover from the hospital as they worked on a game plan.
“I was trying to talk to them in between seizures, believe it or not,” Kill said. “But our communication was pretty good.”
His first game back was no cake walk.
The Gophers were clinging to a seven-point lead early in the fourth when Bennett came off the left edge and blocked Zac Murphy’s punt. The ball hung in the air and he plucked it out of the air just before falling into the end zone for the TD and a 29-16 lead.
Dysert drove Miami 80 yards in 2:34 on the next possession, scrambling and finding Dawan Scott wide open in the end zone to keep it interesting.
The Gophers went for it on fourth and 9 from the Miami 34, but Gray’s pass fell incomplete, and Dysert drove the RedHawks to within striking distance in the closing moments.
With his hands on his knees, Kill watched Kim Royston breakup the final pass of the game, and the student section serenaded him with chants of “Jerry! Jerry!” as he walked off the field a winner for the first time in maroon and gold.
“Any team would worry about their head coach when they see something like that,” Gray said. “It was our first time seeing it, but the coaching staff told us it had happened many times before. We were down a little bit this week. But when he came back Thursday, it just gave us that much more momentum to go into this game and play for him and play for ourselves.”
Kill jogged onto the field with the team just before kickoff and coached the entire game from field level. Known for his fiery intensity and beet-red face during game day, Kill appeared to remain calm for most of the game.
Doctors said a combination of dehydration and stress triggered his latest seizure, and team physician Pat Smith promised to keep a closer eye on Kill during games. Several times throughout the game, Smith came up to Kill and handed him a cup of water to drink.
“I did OK,” Kill said. “Doc Smith about wore me out with that water.”
The coach just looked tired all day, his shoulders a little slumped as he watched the tight game unfold.
He perked up toward the end of the first half, riding the field judge hard after they didn’t review a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Erik Finklea that pulled the RedHawks to 13-10 heading into the break.
Kill became animated as he followed the official about 40 yards up the sideline, barking in his ear and pumping his fist as he argued his point.
“I worried about it for about five minutes going out to pregame,” Kill said. “Then once I got chewin’ on the punter about something, I was fine. I’d forgot all about having any seizures or anything else.”
After Chris Hawthorne’s 26-yard field goal gave Minnesota a 16-10 lead out of the break, Dysert hit Chris Givens on a 7-yard fade into the end zone to tie the game. But Aaron Griffo’s snap on the extra point bounced in front of the holder Dysert, preventing Miami from taking the lead.
Gray used his arm in the first half, completing eight of his first nine passes for 146 yards. He used his legs in the second half to keep the Gophers offense moving.
He had a 20-yard run and two 14-yarders in the third quarter, often taking off after seeing his first read on a pass was covered. On third-and-goal from the 1, Gray threw a touchdown to John Rabe for a 23-16 lead just as the fourth quarter began.