Linebacker Jonathan Celestin celebrates the victory during the National Funding Holiday Bowl game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Washington State Cougars. Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire
Linebacker Jonathan Celestin celebrates the victory during the National Funding Holiday Bowl game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Washington State Cougars. Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

Minnesota held Washington State to season lows in points, passing yards and total offense Wednesday night in a 17-12 victory in the third lowest scoring Holiday Bowl.

Mitch Leidner threw a 13-yard pass to Shannon Brooks with three minutes, 23 seconds left in the third quarter for the game’s first touchdown and Rodney Smith ran nine yards for a touchdown with 2:06 to play for the Golden Gophers (9-4).

Luke Falk threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Sweet with 29 seconds left for the Cougars (8-5).

Washington State missed the two-point conversion attempt and Minnesota recovered the onside kickoff to seal the victory before a crowd announced at 48,704 at Qualcomm Stadium.

The game was the third-lowest scoring among the 39 Holiday Bowls, behind the 1991 and 2010 games when 26 points were scored both times.

The Cougars entered the game averaging 370.8 passing yards per game, second among Football Bowl Subdivision teams, and 497.5 yards of total offense, 15th nationally, but were held to 264 passing yards and 303 yards of total offense.

Leidner was five-for-five for 73 yards on Minnesota’s first touchdown drive as it drove 84 yards on 10 plays on its first possession of the second half.

Smith’s touchdown came four plays after Adekunle Ayinde intercepted Falk’s fourth-down pass at the Minnesota 47-yard line and returned it 23 yards to the Cougars 30-yard line.

Washington State led 6-3 at halftime on Erik Powell’s 26- and 41-yard field goals. Emmit Carpenter a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter for the Golden Gophers.

The Cougars led in total offense, 303 yards to 279, and time of possession, 31:06-28:54. Minnesota led 17-16 in first downs.

Smith was chosen as the offensive MVP, rushing for a game-high 74 yards on 17 carries. Golden Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman was the defensive MVP for his game-high 12 tackles, including a quarterback sack.

Falk completed 30 of 51 passes for 264 yards and one touchdown. He had one pass intercepted.

Leidner was 11 of 20 for 129 yards and one touchdown.

Washington State ended the season with three consecutive losses following an eight-game winning streak. The Cougars opened the season with back- to-back losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State.

Washington State running back Jamal Morrow continued his coin toss success, winning for the 17th time in 22 games has been game captain.

Coach Mike Leach said he had chosen Morrow for that role because he had reached the “Showcase Showdown” on the CBS game show “The Price is Right” in August 2013 and thought he would be good at the coin toss.

The game was nearly derailed by a player boycott.

Minnesota players announced a boycott of all football activities Dec. 15 in an effort to reinstate 10 suspended teammates.

The players ended the boycott Dec. 17 following “many hours of discussion within our team” and a meeting with university President Eric Kaler when “it became clear that our original request of having the 10 suspensions overturned was not going to happen,” receiver Drew Wolitarsky said.

Kaler and Director of Athletics Mark Coyle agreed Dec. 16 night to give all 10 players “a fair hearing, which includes a diverse review panel” and a “showing of support for our team and the character shown by the great majority of our players,” Wolitarsky said.

The agreement also included the pledge by the team’s senior group “that we as a team will use our status as public figures to bring more exposure to the issue of sexual harassment and violence against women,” Wolitarsky said.

More details of those plans will be announced later, Wolitarsky said.

Kaler said he was “very pleased that the football team has realized the opportunity to represent the University of Minnesota. They’ve come out strongly in support of the victims of sexual violence and I have promised a very fair hearing to the students involved.”

The suspensions came in response to a sexual assault investigation that did not result in criminal charges, but did lead to an investigation by the school’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.