Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Terrel Hunt's 12-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter -- his second of the game -- propelled Syracuse to a 21-17 victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl.
Hunt passed for 188 yards on 19-of-29 efficiency and rushed for 74 yards on 15 carries for the Orange (7-6), who have won five of their last six postseason appearances.
"We just appreciate the opportunity to come to Houston, Texas, and be part of the Lone Star State for a few days. At the end of the whole deal, just really excited and proud of our kids at Syracuse," Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer said.
Jerome Smith added 74 yards and a score on 16 rushes, while Brisly Estime led the receiving corps with 47 yards on five catches but posted a long punt return which led to the winning TD.
Mitch Leidner finished 11-of-22 for 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Gophers (8-5). Philip Nelson got the start but was pulled early after completing just two of his seven attempts for 18 yards.
"They out executed us. I always say the game comes down to execution and players. Their kids did a better job executing than we did. I feel bad for our kids and certainly our seniors. They really moved our program forward and we continued to grow from last year to this year," said Minnesota coach Jerry Kill. "We just need to continue to improve. Certainly, the loss is very disappointing. I feel bad for our kids, but again I congratulate Syracuse. With that, I will take questions."
Drew Wolitarsky and Maxx Williams each posted a TD grab, while David Cobb racked up 91 yards on 18 carries in defeat.
The Gophers closed their gap to 14-9 on the first snap of the fourth quarter when Leidner connected with Williams on a 20-yard score, but the conversion pass failed.
Syracuse went three-and-out, and Minnesota took a 17-14 edge on the ensuing series. On 2nd-and-8 from his own 45, Leidner launched a ball down the middle and Wolitarsky came up with it for a 55-yard TD. Leidner's conversion pass was successful to Mike Henry with 12:34 on the clock.
A 70-yard punt return from Estime gave Syracuse possession on the Gophers' 14- yard line with 2:03 remaining. Prince-Tyson Gulley gained seven yards on first down but was stopped for no gain on the subsequent play. On 3rd-and-3 from the Minnesota 7-yard line it became 3rd-and-8 thanks to a false start, but Hunt managed to rescue a broken play and rush up the middle for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:14 to play.
"I think it gave coach (George) McDonald a little more flexibility," Shafer said.
Leidner converted one fourth-down play to Williams, a 16-yard grab, which got his team to midfield, then hit Williams once more on a 3rd-and-17 to the Syracuse 40 with 12 seconds left. A spike on first down preceded a pair of incompletions, as Leidner's first heave to the end zone fell incomplete, and his final toss was tapped out of bounds as time expired.
Despite failing to convert a fake field-goal attempt and not moving the ball well otherwise in the first quarter, Syracuse picked up the game's first points on a 1-yard run by Smith just under five minutes into the second.
Minnesota didn't answer until the final play of the half, as Chris Hawthorne's 41-yard make capped a quick drive.
The Orange headed to the fourth with a 14-3 edge, after Hunt finished off an 86-yard march on the 15th play by calling his own number and rolling five yards to paydirt.
Minnesota had won three of the four previous meetings with Syracuse, including a 17-10 decision in Minneapolis last year ... Syracuse improved to 15-9-1 in bowl competition, while Minnesota fell to 5-11 after dropping their sixth straight since a win in the 2004 Music City Bowl ... Williams caught five balls for 76 yards, while Wolitarsky led all Gophers with 94 yards on four receptions.