HOUSTON -- After a timely and decisive punt return from Brisly Estime, Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt scampered 12 yards for the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter and the Orange rallied for a 21-17 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Friday in the Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium.
Estime returned a 57-yard Pete Mortell punt 70 yards to the Gophers' 14-yard line and, with the pocket collapsing on third down, Hunt broke contain and dashed untouched into the end zone with 1:14 left.
Syracuse (7-6) posted its third consecutive bowl win and a winning record under first-year coach Scott Shafer after finishing with four victories in their final six games. Minnesota (8-5) fell in the Texas Bowl for a second consecutive year.
Hunt passed for 188 yards and rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Estime added 194 all-purpose yards on 11 touches.
Trailing 14-3, the Gophers mounted a sudden comeback, covering 72 yards in eight plays for their first offensive touchdown in 195 minutes. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner capped that march with a 20-yard strike to fullback Maxx Williams on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Leidner was sacked on the subsequent two-point conversion pass attempt, but he proved successful after the Gophers surged ahead on their ensuing possession. After completing a 55-yard touchdown pass to receiver Drew Wolitarsky that gave Minnesota a one-point lead, Leidner passed to Mike Henry in the flat for the conversion and the Gophers led 17-14.
Given the Gophers' offensive sluggishness, Syracuse appear in control after a 15-play, 86-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard Hunt touchdown run with 2:57 left in the third quarter. That was the second methodical push for the Orange. The first came in the second quarter when Jerome Smith capped an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge.
Presented with an opportunity to tie the score, Syracuse kicker Ryan Norton pushed his 45-yard field goal attempt wide right with 3:31 left.
NOTES: Minnesota coach Jerry Kill coached from the sideline during the second half, his first time doing so since the Golden Gophers' 23-7 loss to Iowa. Kill spent the first half and the majority of the season coaching from the press box while managing his epileptic seizures. ... Syracuse and Minnesota entered play averaging a combined 4.5 yards per rush. They totaled 127 yards on 39 carries in the first half for an average of only 3.3 yards per carry. The teams combined for 132 rushing yards in the third quarter alone. ... Syracuse completed the season as the lone team in FBS to not allow a 100-yard rusher. Minnesota RB David Cobb paced the Golden Gophers with 91 yards on 18 carries.