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Texas Tech's offense proves game's never over  
 


By Jim Gintonio
Special to NFL.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Are you kidding?

This one was over, a night wasted in the desert.

Insight Bowl highlights
Insight Bowl

Graham Harrell threw for 445 yards, leading Texas Tech's comeback.
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Texas Tech was going home, a loser at the Insight Bowl.

Hah!

The Red Raiders, on the brink of getting humiliated at Sun Devil Stadium before a crowd 48,391, pulled a miracle out of the cold Arizona air, defeating Minnesota in overtime 44-41, completing the biggest comeback in bowl history.

Minnesota, which led at the half 35-7 and extended it to 38-7 midway through the third period, was on easy street -- until Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell and his gang of talented receivers put on the show of their lives.

"It was a game of funny opportunities," said Red Raiders coach Mike Leach, who got the last laugh when Shannon Woods powered into the end zone for the game-winning score on Tech's first possession in OT.

The Gophers went up 41-38 a few minutes earlier on Joel Monroe's 32-yard field goal, but given the way Tech had battled back to gain a huge edge in momentum, there seemed to be little doubt Harrell would find a way his team into the end zone.

"We were down, but once we were out there for the second half, we said, 'We can't control what happened. Let's have fun and let's see if we can turn things around,' " said Harrell, Tech's prolific sophomore quarterback who completed 34 passes in 52 attempts for 427 yards and two touchdowns.

"This says a lot about our team. The offensive line was saying, 'We trust you. We trust you, Graham.' Most people thought we died, but we fed off it. We believed we could win. When you believe, good things happen. We never felt we were short of time."

Harrell and his high-powered team started off horribly, bringing back thoughts of an early season loss at TCU where it scored only three points. But three fourth-quarter touchdowns and Alex Trlica's 52-yard field goal on the final play of regulation tied it at 38.

"When we needed a big play, we couldn't get it," said Minnesota coach Glen Mason, who said he didn't think his team was too conservative after halftime. "No lead is safe. We had a couple of breakdowns coming down the wire. They just played better than we did down the wire.

"Everything was going our way in the first half. We were playing well in all three phases, and we seemed to get every break … Some days you can't buy a break, and some halves you can't buy a break."

Woods, who also scored Tech's first touchdown, picked up 105 yards on 17 carries, but took a bit of a back seat to Minnesota's Amir Pinnix, who was brilliant 178 yards on 32 attempts.

Bryan Cupito, who set two Gophers single-season records for passing touchdowns and yardage, was at the top of his game in the first half. He ended his night 18-for-28 with three touchdowns.

Leach, who has seen his team do improbable things during his tenure in Lubbock, said the main difference in the second half was that his team -- starting with the offensive line -- began to play better.

"I don't think there was a specific (turning) point, as much as at halftime," he said. "I think at halftime, everybody sort of recommitted, understood that we had a great opportunity … Everybody zeroed in and did their job."

Early in the game, he said, the Red Raiders were trying to make too much happen.

"Then it got to be kind of a body-punch deal. I felt like we did a good job all three sides of the ball. They're up on us. We had to body-punch them, see if we could make them collapse. We were lucky enough for that to happen."

Mason went along with that, adding: "As all coaches preach, no lead is sufficient until it becomes mathematically or close-wise impossible for someone to come back."

Alex Trlica's 52-yard field goal made him one of Texas Tech's many heroes.  
Alex Trlica's 52-yard field goal made him one of Texas Tech's many heroes.    
Minnesota was hurt by the absence of All-American tight end Matt Spaeth, the John Mackey Award winner, but his understudy, sophomore Jack Simmons, played more than admirably with seven receptions for 134 yards and one touchdown. Cupito went to him on the Gophers' first play for a 13-yard gain, and he kept looking for him.

His performance, however, was bittersweet.

"They (Red Raiders) did some different things defensively that caused some problems for us as far as movement on the defensive line," he said. "I think when we look at the film, we're really going to kick ourselves because we're going to see some opportunities we really missed."

Minnesota linebacker Mike Sherels said he and his teammates committed a huge mistake during halftime.

"You kind of feel that everybody was kind of on Cloud 9," he said. "We didn't think we could be stopped. In retrospect, it was definitely a mistake on our part, to think we had the game won at that point."

Texas Tech wound up with 548 yards of total offense, with Minnesota at 458 -- numbers Leach normally sees week after week. But he said he didn't know his team was a part of bowl history until after it was over.

"I just can't say enough about the players and coaches," he said. "When you have a group, you have to collectively believe in something for it to happen. I mean, if you just have a handful of doubters, it can screw the whole thing up.

"At times this season, we haven't played as well as a team as we would have liked. This was one of the greatest playing together as a team that I've been a part of."

 
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