Golden Gophers rally past Ragin’ Cajuns, 35-24
MINNEAPOLIS – Big 10 Conference member Minnesota used a pair of second-half scoring drives and forced a pair of turnovers in the final 30 minutes to erase a halftime deficit and grind out a 35-24 victory before an announced crowd of 46,843 on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.
Zach Evans, who rushed for a game-high 85 yards on 15 carries, scored on a go-ahead, 18-yard touchdown for Minnesota (3-2) on the opening drive of the third quarter while the Golden Gopher defense forced a pair of turnovers, controlled the football for over 21 minutes and held Louisiana (3-2) to 138 yards of total offense in the final 30 minutes.
Athan Kaliakmanis completed 12 of 14 passes for 146 yards for the Golden Gophers with scoring passes of 10 and 37 yards to Daniel Jackson.
Zeon Chriss completed 14 of 25 passes for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns for Louisiana while leading the Ragin’ Cajuns with 74 yards on the ground. Jacob Kibodi gained 65 yards on seven carries for Louisiana, scoring on a 52-yard run with 3:01 remaining.
Peter LeBlanc caught four passes to lead Louisiana, which outgained Minnesota, 349-347 overall, with Robert Williams recording three receptions.
Jasper Williams and K.C. Ossai posted a game-high eight tackles each for Louisiana while Tyrone Lewis, Jr., notched his first career interception. Kendre’ Gant added seven stops for the Ragin’ Cajuns with Cameron Whitfield collecting his 4.5 sack of the year.
Louisiana took the opening drive and drove 75 yards in 10 plays with LeBlanc capping the drive with a toe-tapping, 7-yard scoring pass from Chriss in the right corner of the end zone. Chriss kept the drive alive with a pair of third-down conversions, scrambling 16 yards on third-and-4 before hitting Williams on a 22-yard pass on third-and-2 at the UM 31.
Kenneth Almendares’ 28-yard field goal – his 18th consecutive make dating back to last season –broke a 7-7 deadlock with 13:26 remaining in the second quarter and tied Brett Baer’s school-record.
Minnesota took a 14-10 lead in the second quarter on Kaliakmanis’ 2-yard sneak on fourth-and-1 before the Ragin’ Cajuns regained the lead on the ensuing drive heading into the break.
Chriss connected on passes of 16 and 8 yards to LeBlanc before scampering for gains of 10 and 18 yards on the ground to get to the UM 24. Kibodi’s 3-yard gain on third-and-2 at the UM 16 extended the drive before Chriss found Williams in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard scoring pass with 1:47 remaining in the half.
Minnesota took the opening drive of the second half and drove 80 yards in 11 plays with Evans scoring on an 18-yard run to put the Golden Gophers back up for good, 21-17.
The Golden Gophers picked off Chriss at the UL 42 and drove eight plays with Bryce Williams giving Minnesota a 28-17 lead when he plunged in on a 2-yard run with 13:45 remaining.
After Jack Henderson picked off Chriss at the UM 44, Kaliakmanis helped Minnesota seal the game with 5:21 remaining in the game when he connected with Jackson on a 37-yard scoring pass on fourth-and-2 to cap a seven-play, 56-yard scoring drive.
Louisiana will return to Sun Belt Conference action on Saturday (Oct. 7) when it hosts Texas State in a SBC West Division showdown. Kickoff is scheduled for either 2:30 or 3 p.m. with the game being nationally televised on ESPN2 or ESPNU.
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