What happened? Gophers try to regroup from tough loss

Updated: October 11, 2003, 6:03 PM ET

MINNEAPOLIS -- They were only one quarter away.

Holding a 21-point lead over rival Michigan, the Minnesota Gophers were only one quarter from a 7-0 record. One quarter from their third Big Ten win. One quarter from silencing their critics who said they had yet to beat a tough opponent.

Only one quarter from their biggest win in years.

But by the end of the fourth quarter, Michigan's Garrett Rivas was kicking the game-winning field goal, the Wolverines were pulling off the biggest comeback in school history and the Little Brown Jug was headed back to Ann Arbor.

"Obviously now I have a big challenge," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. "This team is down right now after this tough loss. We need to come back and be ready to play a very good Michigan State team next week. We don't have any time to be upset about this one game."

No time to be upset, but the Gophers know they have to learn from it.

Leading 28-7 with the capacity Metrodome crowd roaring its approval, the Gophers couldn't have asked for a better situation.

The outcome still seemed certain even after Chris Perry hauled in a 10-yard TD pass to open the fourth quarter for Michigan. But the crowd, and the players, started sensing trouble when Asad Abdul-Khaliq forced a pass to tight end Matt Spaeth under pressure that was picked off by Jacob Stewart.

"It was a naked play that I shouldn't have ran," Abdul-Khaliq said. "I didn't even see the guy coming. That's something you just don't do. I can't explain it. I thought he was open and that definitely cost us."

Stewart ran the interception back 34 yards for a touchdown. All of a sudden, it was 28-21.

Abdul-Khaliq appeared to thwart the comeback with his 52-yard bolt up the middle for another Minnesota score.

But the defense that had stuffed Michigan's ground attack all night and harassed the Wolverines receivers couldn't keep up with the no-huddle offense. John Navarre brought the Michigan fans back to life with his 52-yard TD pass to Braylon Edwards.

Perry's tying TD run on the next series had the Gophers reeling.

"When they tied it up, we knew that we had to play harder," running back Laurence Maroney said. "They just came up the bigger team."

The rushing game that had worked so well for the Gophers earlier -- Minnesota had 424 yards on the ground -- couldn't manage a first down on the next possession. And Rivas' kick deflated the Dome.

Asked if there were a lot of tears shed in the locker room, Abdul-Khaliq said, "a whole lot."

"No one thing made us lose the game. I don't know what it was. We still played our hearts out. We just didn't finish."

The players tried their best to bury the hurt and look ahead to Saturday's game against Michigan State. At 2-1, the Gophers are still in the thick of the Big Ten race with five games left.

"This is a bump in the road," running back Marion Barber III said. "We've got to come back Sunday and get after it."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index