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Cupito sets Minnesota mark as Spartans' sad season continues

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Bryan Cupito became Minnesota's
all-time leading passer.

If the Golden Gophers win their regular-season finale next week,
he will really be able to enjoy the feat because his career will
end at a bowl.

Cupito threw two second-half touchdowns to help Minnesota pull
away for a 31-18 victory over Michigan State on Saturday.

The Gophers (5-6, 2-5 Big Ten) kept their postseason alive and
now need to beat Iowa at home to play in a bowl game for the
seventh time in eight years.

Cupito's 37-yard TD pass to Ernie Wheelwright, who eluded two
Spartans with spin moves, put Minnesota ahead 24-12 midway through
the third quarter. On the play, Cupito broke Cory Sauter's
school-record 6,834 yards passing set from 1994 to 1997.

"It's a great honor, but I'll be more excited about it if we
can win next week," Cupito said.

Nothing can get the Spartans excited about this season.

Minnesota's win knocked Michigan State (4-7, 1-6) out of the
bowl picture in what was an inglorious home finale, 1½ weeks after
John L. Smith was fired and permitted to finish the season on the
sideline.

"I feel bad for our seniors," Smith said. "I feel bad that we
weren't able to get out of here with a win in their last (home)
game."

With only pride at stake, the Spartans will end the season at
Penn State and fail to be bowl-eligible for the third straight
year, their worst postseason drought since the early 1980s.

Michigan State returned a blocked punt for a score and had a
safety, taking a 9-0 lead midway through the first quarter before
falling apart because of mistakes and missed opportunities for its
seventh loss in eight games.

"We had plenty of chances and we couldn't convert," Smith
said. "That has really been the story of our season."

Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton was sacked late in the
first quarter and left the game because of dizziness in his last
home contest. Smith said Stanton was hit so hard, it crushed part
of his helmet.

"It's really hard to have my last game in Spartan Stadium go
this way," said Stanton, one of five finalists for the Unitas
Award. "I just thought I would be hurting my team more than
helping if I was out there."

Minnesota went ahead for good with 8:53 left in the first half
when Mario Reese sacked Brian Hoyer, whose fumble was returned 48
yards by Steve Davis to give the Gophers a 14-9 lead.

The Gophers stayed in command, and Cupito's 41-yard TD pass to
Logan Payne early in the fourth quarter gave them a 19-point lead.

Cupito was 16-of-28 for 243 yards -- 6,916 for his career -- with
two TDs. Payne caught five passes for 96 yards and a score. Amir
Pinnix had 113 yards rushing on 23 carries.

"I'm very pleased that we're going home victorious. What makes
it a lot more rewarding is how we started that game," Minnesota
coach Glen Mason said. "We self-destructed.

"It was one of those things where all the momentum was going
Michigan State's way. When someone else has momentum, you've got to
get it back. A couple of turnovers forced by our defense enabled us
to get it rolling. And once we got it rolling, we pretty much had
control of the game."

Hoyer completed 26 of 50 passes for 330 yards with a TD, two
interceptions and a fumble. Kerry Reed caught 11 passes for 147
yards and Matt Trannon had seven receptions for 131 yards and a
score.

Hoyer's 26-yard TD pass to Trannon made it 31-18 with 2:54 left,
but the Spartans didn't have much hope for a comeback and neither
did their fans, who left the stadium almost empty in the fourth
quarter.

"We definitely notice," Michigan State running back Jehuu
Caulcrick said. "It doesn't look good for the program. You get
recruits coming in and seeing the stadium half-full. Who wants to
come here?

"But this is a great program. We can turn this around."

Michigan State athletic director Ron Mason said before the game
that the school plans to narrow its coaching search after talking
to candidates and hopes to have face-to-face interviews soon, but
he would not comment on specific names or a timetable for the
search.