3:30 PM ET, October 21, 2006
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The "Let's go Bison!" chants were so loud that the "Fire Mason!" sound coming from the Minnesota student section was barely audible.
At the end of an embarrassing afternoon, the Gophers got their much-needed win.
Minnesota blocked Shawn Bibeau's field goal as time ran out on Saturday, helping the struggling Gophers survive against Division I-AA North Dakota State with a 10-9 victory.
"They took it to us in every way, shape and form. I'm just happy we won the football game," said Gophers coach Glen Mason.
Amir Pinnix rushed 25 times for 97 yards and a 5-yard score with 10:36 left to give Minnesota (3-5) its first lead of the afternoon against the previously undefeated ninth-ranked team in I-AA. The Gophers, outgained 380-249 in total yardage and consistently beaten at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, escaped with a decidedly unimpressive victory.
"To come out here in our home stadium and put on a show like that, it's really unacceptable," linebacker Mike Sherels said. "We're just going to have to turn things around."
Next week, Minnesota plays at top-ranked Ohio State and must go 3-1 in its last four games to be eligible for a bowl-game invitation.
North Dakota State (6-1) can't participate in the I-AA playoffs until 2008, so this was a big one for the Bison -- easily their most anticipated matchup in the four years since they moved up from Division II.
With the campus in Fargo less than four hours away by car and more than 12,000 alumni living in the Twin Cities area, fired-up NDSU fans wearing green and gold apparel clogged several sections of both decks in the Metrodome. The announced crowd of 62,845 was by far the largest here this season, boosted in part by a preseason rule that required customers to buy a ticket for this game if they wanted a seat for the Iowa game on Nov. 18.
Plus, though some of the Bison were recruited as walk-ons, none of them were offered scholarships by the Gophers. With 33 players on the roster from Minnesota, the motivation was more than high.
Bibeau, who made kicks of 30, 39 and 41 yards, banged a 21-yard try in the third quarter off the left upright. The Gophers were not interested in the freshman from White Bear Lake, and he wanted to show them what he could do.
"I thought I had a pretty good performance and stuff," said Bibeau, who is 12-for-17 on field goals this year. "I don't know if Glen Mason cares or not."
No, Shawn, he has much greater concerns at the moment.
Steve Walker, who went 22-for-37 for 237 yards and one interception, drove NDSU into range in eight plays, 59 yards and 2-plus minutes as the seconds ticked away and set Bibeau up for a 42-yard attempt.
The snap by Jeff Curtis was low, and a strong surge by Minnesota up the middle overpowered the Bison line to get in the backfield for the dramatic block.
So who touched it?
"Nobody on our team will own up to it," Sherels said, cracking a smile. "We were asking everybody in the locker room. We have no clue at this point."
Of equal mystery is whether the Gophers can find a way to win three more games this season. Wearing 1960 replica uniforms, the year of their last national championship, they were clearly not the better team against a Bison squad that already had one Division I-A win, 29-24 at Ball State on Sept. 23.
NDSU made up for a disadvantage in speed and size with solid tackling, and a rushing defense that entered the weekend leading Division I-AA with an average of only 41.5 yards per game certainly held its own against a Minnesota team that is always a threat on the ground.
On offense, receivers Travis White (six receptions for 82 yards) and Kole Heckendorf (eight catches for 96 yards) were consistently open against a Gophers defense that gave up 48 points to Wisconsin last week and was missing two starters -- cornerback Trumaine Banks and linebacker John Shevlin -- to injuries.
But the Bison had to be mad at themselves for not finishing this one.
Walker's pass was tipped by Steve Davis at the line and picked off by Jamal Harris at the Gophers 20-yard line late in the first quarter. Then White fumbled a punt at his own 18-yard line less than 2 minutes later to set up a 30-yard field goal by Jason Giannini. And in the second quarter, Walker's 5-yard touchdown pass to White was negated by a questionable tripping penalty called on guard Ryan Foster.
"Right from the get-go, we weren't going to be intimidated by any means," Walker said.
Coach Craig Bohl claimed his team was not interested in any of those classic moral victories, but the way his players were cheered by the NDSU fans as they walked slowly off the field indicated this was indeed just that.
"It gives guys a little confidence that we can play with a Big Ten team," White said. "It's really exciting for our program -- where it's come and where it's going to go."
Giannini missed from 52 and 40 yards in the first half, both wide left. ... The last time NDSU played the Gophers was 1937. The Bison are 0-7 against Minnesota.