12:00 PM ET, November 18, 2006
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Logan Payne hopped in a cart and floored it across the field, leading the mass of Minnesota players in pursuit of the bronze pig.
The Gophers sure finished strong, leaving the frustrated Iowa Hawkeyes envious of their rival.
Amir Pinnix carried 23 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns, and Minnesota forced five turnovers in a 34-24 victory Saturday over fading Iowa to take back the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.
"We had some ups and downs, but the way this team came back is something else," said Payne, who caught seven passes for 64 yards. "This is the best team I've ever played on."
Pinnix gave the Gophers (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) a 1,000-yard rusher for the eighth straight year. They won their third straight game and ended a five-game losing streak to the Hawkeyes (6-6, 2-6), who lost their final five conference games after being nationally ranked as high as 15th in October.
"We pulled a dud," safety Miguel Merrick said. "When you lose six games, you can't say any team that's .500 is good. Nobody wants to go to a bowl game like this."
But Tate lost a fumble and threw three interceptions. The last one led to a brief benching in the third quarter, when coach Kirk Ferentz thought his quarterback needed a little time to cool off.
"He's the head guy," Tate said. "I probably would have done the same thing. That's the way it goes."
Tate's highlight was a nifty scramble to avoid a sack by Steve Davis in the fourth quarter, when he used his left hand to balance and keep from falling as he rolled right and fired a 3-yard touchdown pass to Scott Chandler with 8:08 left to cut Minnesota's lead to 10.
"That kid's got magic," Gophers coach Glen Mason said.
The Hawkeyes forced a three-and-out and drove to their opponent's 25 with roughly 4 minutes remaining, but Albert Young -- who had 133 yards on 25 attempts with one score -- tripped on fourth-and-2 and was stopped well short of the first down to end any shot of an Iowa comeback.
"My body wanted to go before my feet did," Young said.
Minnesota went 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions on another rough afternoon for the kickers. Jason Giannini, who missed eight extra points last season, hooked a point-after attempt left in the first quarter for his third miss this year. Joel Monroe replaced him, and his 40-yard field goal try went wide right in the third quarter.
But the Gophers had a big enough lead to make those misses irrelevant and win the 100th overall meeting in the series. They lead 59-39 with two ties.
Watching his players celebrate with a traveling trophy none of them had ever touched before made Mason smile and come close to crying. The season looked lost after an awful October, a month that included a one-point overtime defeat to Penn State when Giannini missed an extra point, lopsided losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State and an embarrassing one-point victory over Division I-AA North Dakota State.
"I don't know if gratified is the right word, but I don't know when I've felt more emotional," said Mason, who raised his record against Iowa to 4-6.
Jay Thomas added 79 yards on 15 carries for Minnesota, which is in competition with the Hawkeyes for the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. The school not invited to that game probably will be picked for the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
Bryan Cupito went 18-for-30 for 267 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the final home game for him and 10 other seniors -- including tight end Matt Spaeth, who caught a 3-yard score to put the Gophers up 27-17 late in the third quarter. Spaeth, an All-Big Ten pick last year, has been playing with a separated right shoulder and is leaning toward surgery that would keep him out of a bowl game.
"This will be the season I'll remember out of all of 'em," Spaeth said.
Tate, who trails only Chuck Long for most of the school's career passing records but has had not had the senior season Iowa envisioned, set up Minnesota touchdowns with two of his turnovers. Redshirt freshman Jake Christensen, Tate's temporary replacement, ended his only series with an interception that led to a Gophers score.
The costliest mistake came with 34 seconds left before halftime on first-and-goal at the 3, when Tate's pass to a slanting Dominique Douglas was picked off at the goal line by a leaping Mike Sherels -- who also had 14 tackles -- to preserve a 20-17 lead.
"We played hard. I don't think anyone quit. It's just unfortunate the way it went," Tate said. "They really did outplay us."