HOUSTON (AP) – Seth Doege and D.J. Johnson both made mistakes that cost Texas Tech on Friday night.
But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the two seniors stepped up to save the game.
Johnson, who got beat on a long play in the third quarter, returned an interception 39 yards and Ryan Bustin made a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give Texas Tech a 34-31 comeback victory over Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Doege found Eric Ward on a short pass, and he outran a defender for a 35-yard scoring play to pull the Red Raiders even at 31 with just more than a minute remaining.
Michael Carter intercepted two of Doege’s passes in the fourth quarter before the tying score, but Minnesota couldn’t convert either of the turnovers into points.
The Red Raiders (8-5) got their third straight bowl win to wrap up a month that began with coach Tommy Tuberville’s abrupt departure for the job at Cincinnati. Texas Tech has hired Kliff Kingsbury to replace him, but interim coach Chris Thomsen led the team against Minnesota (6-7). Kingsbury was at the game, watching from a suite.
“More than anything I credit those players,” Thomsen said of Johnson and Doege. “They really held it together … to get to make those plays after they struggled. They kept their poise and confidence and continued to stay in there and battle.”
Johnson said it was fitting that they dealt with so much adversity on Friday night considering the tough month they’ve had.
“As a team we just continued to fight and have faith and work together,” Johnson said. “This is a huge win for us as a group.”
Doege threw for 271 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score in front of a crowd that included 1977 Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell and former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes.
“That drive where we went and tied the game, we finally started clicking,” Doege said. “It happened at the right time – probably should have happened sooner.”
Freshman Philip Nelson threw for 138 yards and two scores for the Gophers, who were in a bowl game for the first time since 2009.
“I think our kids played hard tonight; they played their guts out, and I appreciate that,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “We just couldn’t make a play at a critical time.”
The Red Raiders returned to a bowl after having their 18-season bowl streak snapped last year.
A 1-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to Drew Goodger gave Minnesota a 31-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Texas Tech led 24-17 at halftime, but couldn’t do anything offensively in the second half until the last couple of minutes. It was an ugly game for the Red Raiders, who had 13 penalties for 135 yards and lost tight end Jace Amaro when he was ejected for throwing a punch.
“There was really no excuse for it,” Thomsen said of the penalties. “We didn’t play very smart.”
Jakeem Grant ran for what was initially ruled a Tech touchdown late in the third quarter. Amaro threw a punch at Derrick Wells in the end zone on the play and was ejected.
After the penalty, the play was reviewed and overturned. Doege threw an incomplete pass before Tech made a 32-yard field goal. But the Red Raiders had a false start penalty on the play and had to kick again and this time the Gophers blocked it.
Nelson threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Devin Crawford-Tufts, who was left uncovered in the end zone, to tie it at 24 early in the third quarter.
Donnell Kirkwood scored on a 3-yard run to leave Minnesota up 17-14 early in the second.
Texas Tech had a first-and-goal at the Minnesota 2 after a pass-interference call on the Gophers. But Texas Tech had to settle for a field goal after a rush for a 3-yard loss and two penalties.
Minnesota’s next drive started out well before turning ugly. The Gophers had made two first downs before MarQueis Gray was sacked for a loss of 7 yards. Kirkwood ran for 17 yards on the next play, but Minnesota received two 15-yard penalties on the play, one for a personal foul on lineman Zac Epping, to make it second-and-42. Epping received a second personal foul penalty on the next play to bring up third-and-49.
Christian Eldred shanked the punt, giving Texas Tech the ball at the Minnesota 42.
The Red Raiders capitalized on their great field position when Doege spun away from a defender in the backfield and leaped over another Gophers player near the goal line on a 4-yard touchdown run. Tech converted a fourth-and-6 play on that drive, and led by seven at halftime.
Minnesota’s Rodrick Williams Jr. scored on a 2-yard run to give the Gophers a 10-7 lead in the first quarter.
Doege lost his helmet on a 5-yard scramble on Tech’s next drive and had to go out for one play. He was replaced by Michael Brewer, who found Derreck Edwards for a 13-yard touchdown pass to give the Red Raiders a 14-10 lead.
Minnesota’s Troy Stoudermire returned the opening kickoff 26 yards to break the NCAA record for career kickoff return yards. He finished the game with 111 to push his total to 3,615.
The Gophers ended that drive with a 41-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
Grant returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to put Texas Tech up 7-3.