Minnesota Gophers beat MTSU 24-17 in emotional season opener

[picappgallerysingle id="7442478"]The Minnesota Gophers beat up on the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders last night, winning their season opener 24-17. The biggest elements of success: Gophers fullback Jon Hoese’s three touchdowns, and Gophers running back Duane Bennett rushing for 187 yards.

It wasn’t an easy win for the Minnesota Gophers – the MTSU Blue Raiders tied up the game at halftime at 14-14 (after two missed field goal attempts by shaky Gophers kicker Eric Ellestad) with two consecutive touchdowns.

Then, in the first part of the third quarter, the MTSU Blue Raiders took a 17-14 lead (their kicker can make field goals, you see). But Jon Hoese’s third and final touchdown locked in the win for the Gophers as they clinched their season opener.

The biggest difference this season, at least so far? The Gophers running game – we actually have one! New offensive coordinator Jeff Horton promised that quarterback Adam Weber would have some support from the Gophers running game this year.

That promise comes on the heels of last year’s ranking for the Gophers rushing offense: the worst in the Big Ten. So far this season, with good blocking from the offensive line, Horton has made good on his promise.

Of course, it helps that running back Duane Bennett is healthy again. Bennett rushed for a career-best 187 yards on 30 carries in last night’s Gophers season opener. But just two years ago, Bennett had major knee surgery, and he’s been recovering and rehabbing ever since.

And now, it’s all going to pay off, if last night’s victory is any indication. Duane Bennett is the first Gopher running back to rush for over 100 yards in 19 games. That goes back to 2008.

With his father in critical condition after suffering a stroke late last week, Jon Hoese and his family made the emotional decision to have him play in the game against MTSU. The Gophers are certainly glad the fullback elected to play – Hoese’s career-best three touchdowns secured the victory in the Gophers season opener.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Blue Devils fumbled the kick-off return following Hoese’s third touchdown, and the Gophers fullback was the one to recover the fumble.

More than even that, Hoese’s courage and mere presence inspired his fellow Gophers teammates. Fittingly, the Gophers presented Hoese with the game ball in the emotional locker room after the victory.

After all, as several Gophers teammates told the media, the Gophers played last night’s game for Jon Hoese.

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