DETROIT — For most of the game, Minnesota could rely on its defense. When the Golden Gophers briefly fell behind in the fourth quarter, quarterback Mitch Leidner responded.
Leidner ran 13 yards for a touchdown with 4:26 remaining, and the Golden Gophers held on for a 21-14 win over Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday night.
Minnesota (6-7) ended a trying season on a positive note. Coach Jerry Kill retired in late October because of continued difficulty managing his epilepsy and his job. The Gophers were 5-7 after the regular season but were able to play on because not enough teams reached six wins to fill all the bowls.
All three teams that went to bowls at 5-7 — Minnesota, Nebraska and San Jose State — ended up winning them.
Central Michigan (7-6) took a 14-13 lead with 11:08 remaining on a 13-yard touchdown run by Romello Ross. Minnesota responded by driving 74 yards in 13 plays.
Leidner ran for the go-ahead touchdown, then threw to KJ Maye for a 2-point conversion.
CMU drove back into Minnesota territory, but Cooper Rush threw an ill-advised pass while being pulled down from behind, and his attempt to avoid a sack backfired when Briean Boddy-Calhoun intercepted the ball with 2:10 to play.
Both teams had to overcome plenty of adversity this season. Kill was replaced by Tracy Claeys after his retirement, and CMU coach John Bonamego was diagnosed with cancer in his left tonsil and underwent treatment before the season.
Kill was an honorary captain for the Gophers at the pregame coin toss Monday.
Rush ran for the game's first touchdown, scoring from 1 yard out to give CMU a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. The Gophers took a 10-7 lead into halftime thanks to an 11-yard touchdown pass from Leidner to Maye.
It was 13-7 in the third when an onside kick by Minnesota was unsuccessful, giving the Chippewas the ball at midfield. CMU wasn't able to do anything with that field position, but after a failed fourth down by Minnesota early in the fourth, the Chippewas went 56 yards in four plays.
CMU took the lead on the run by Ross. Minnesota appeared to have him stopped at about the 3-yard line, but the Chippewas were able to push the pile into the end zone.
The announced attendance was 34,217 despite a winter storm that was passing through Michigan. Having a local team surely helped boost the number of fans. Last year's game between North Carolina and Rutgers drew 23,876.