12:00 PM ET, November 11, 2006
Spartan Stadium, EAST LANSING, MI
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Bryan Cupito became Minnesota's all-time leading passer.
If the Golden Gophers win their regular-season finale next week, he will really be able to enjoy the feat because his career will end at a bowl.
Cupito threw two second-half touchdowns to help Minnesota pull away for a 31-18 victory over Michigan State on Saturday.
The Gophers (5-6, 2-5 Big Ten) kept their postseason alive and now need to beat Iowa at home to play in a bowl game for the seventh time in eight years.
Cupito's 37-yard TD pass to Ernie Wheelwright, who eluded two Spartans with spin moves, put Minnesota ahead 24-12 midway through the third quarter. On the play, Cupito broke Cory Sauter's school-record 6,834 yards passing set from 1994 to 1997.
"It's a great honor, but I'll be more excited about it if we can win next week," Cupito said.
Nothing can get the Spartans excited about this season.
Minnesota's win knocked Michigan State (4-7, 1-6) out of the bowl picture in what was an inglorious home finale, 1½ weeks after John L. Smith was fired and permitted to finish the season on the sideline.
"I feel bad for our seniors," Smith said. "I feel bad that we weren't able to get out of here with a win in their last (home) game."
With only pride at stake, the Spartans will end the season at Penn State and fail to be bowl-eligible for the third straight year, their worst postseason drought since the early 1980s.
Michigan State returned a blocked punt for a score and had a safety, taking a 9-0 lead midway through the first quarter before falling apart because of mistakes and missed opportunities for its seventh loss in eight games.
"We had plenty of chances and we couldn't convert," Smith said. "That has really been the story of our season."
Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton was sacked late in the first quarter and left the game because of dizziness in his last home contest. Smith said Stanton was hit so hard, it crushed part of his helmet.
"It's really hard to have my last game in Spartan Stadium go this way," said Stanton, one of five finalists for the Unitas Award. "I just thought I would be hurting my team more than helping if I was out there."
Minnesota went ahead for good with 8:53 left in the first half when Mario Reese sacked Brian Hoyer, whose fumble was returned 48 yards by Steve Davis to give the Gophers a 14-9 lead.
The Gophers stayed in command, and Cupito's 41-yard TD pass to Logan Payne early in the fourth quarter gave them a 19-point lead.
Cupito was 16-of-28 for 243 yards -- 6,916 for his career -- with two TDs. Payne caught five passes for 96 yards and a score. Amir Pinnix had 113 yards rushing on 23 carries.
"I'm very pleased that we're going home victorious. What makes it a lot more rewarding is how we started that game," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "We self-destructed.
"It was one of those things where all the momentum was going Michigan State's way. When someone else has momentum, you've got to get it back. A couple of turnovers forced by our defense enabled us to get it rolling. And once we got it rolling, we pretty much had control of the game."
Hoyer's 26-yard TD pass to Trannon made it 31-18 with 2:54 left, but the Spartans didn't have much hope for a comeback and neither did their fans, who left the stadium almost empty in the fourth quarter.
"We definitely notice," Michigan State running back Jehuu Caulcrick said. "It doesn't look good for the program. You get recruits coming in and seeing the stadium half-full. Who wants to come here?
"But this is a great program. We can turn this around."
Michigan State athletic director Ron Mason said before the game that the school plans to narrow its coaching search after talking to candidates and hopes to have face-to-face interviews soon, but he would not comment on specific names or a timetable for the search.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||5-13||10-21|
|4th Down Conversions||0-2||0-4|
|TD||13:08||KIEL BELTINCK 0 YD BLOCKED PUNT RETURN (BRETT SWENSON KICK)||0||7|
|S||7:34||CLIFTON RYAN SAFETY||0||9|
|TD||10:30||JAY THOMAS 3 YD RUN (JASON GIANNINI KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||8:53||STEVE DAVIS 48 YD DEFENSIVE FUMBLE RETURN (JASON GIANNINI KICK)||14||9|
|FG||0:22||JASON GIANNINI 41 YD FG|
Drive info: 6 plays, 18 yards.
|FG||9:37||BRETT SWENSON 33 YD FG|
Drive info: 13 plays, 64 yards.
|TD||7:41||ERNIE WHEELWRIGHT 37 YD PASS FROM BRYAN CUPITO (JASON GIANNINI KICK)|
Drive info: 4 plays, 50 yards.
|TD||13:18||LOGAN PAYNE 41 YD PASS FROM BRYAN CUPITO (JASON GIANNINI KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 59 yards.
|TD||2:54||MATT TRANNON 26 YD PASS FROM BRIAN HOYER (FAILED 2PT PASS)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 64 yards.