HOUSTON — Most Texas Tech and Minnesota players had never encountered each other before this week. It didn’t take them long to build up a healthy dislike, apparently.
Their Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas turned into a chippy affair.
Tight end Jace Amaro was ejected for pinning and punching a Minnesota safety in the third quarter, but the bad behavior started long before that. Tech finished with season highs in penalties (13) and penalty yards (135).
"There's really no excuse for it," Tech interim coach Chris Thomsen said. "We didn't play very smart. That's the only thing I was disappointed about. I think both teams came out, there was a lot of emotion, a lot of guys playing with a great edge and it went over the top a little bit."
Though an entertaining, back-and-forth game, the first half alone had six 15-yard penalties, five of which were personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct calls.
The ill will might have started brewing Wednesday when Minnesota handily beat Tech in the Rodeo Bowl, a competition with pseudo-rodeo events designed for lighthearted fun. The Golden Gophers loudly celebrated most of their event wins as Tech players chanted “Wait ’til Friday.’ Then at the conclusion, the Golden Gophers whooped it up in the middle of the
arena while the Red Raiders looked on without much smiling.
Or maybe it was just a month of pent-up aggression while waiting to play football.
"I really can't say and can't give an opinion since I was not on the field," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "I talked to our team about playing hard and being smart. W can't afford that."
Some of Minnesota’s big penalties came on one second-quarter possession that included three 15-yard penalties and left the Gophers looking at third-and-49 from their own 11-yard line.
What had been a promising Minnesota series was ambushed by a flurry of flags after running back Donnell Kirkwood broke off 17 yards to the Tech 35. On that play, tight end John Rabe was called for an illegal block and center Zac Epping drew a dead-ball personal foul, moving the ball all the way back to the Minnesota 18.
On the very next play, Epping drove a Tech linebacker to the ground after the play for another personal foul.
Minnesota finished with seven penalties for 84 yards.
"I would say it was both teams being very competitive," Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray said. "There was a lot of talking going on during plays and after plays. You've got to have in your head that the second person always gets caught, and unfortunately we got caught plenty of times. That led us to lose a lot of yards on offense."
Tech had a good chance to take the lead in the second quarter wiped out by a personal foul of its own. Left tackle LaAdrian Waddle was the guilty party, turning a third-and-goal from the 1 into third down from the 16.
The Red Raiders settled for a field goal that tied the score at 17.
That wasn’t the last costly bad judgment on Tech’s part. Tied at 24 late in the third quarter, Tech was at the Minnesota 1 when Jakeem Grant took a sweep handoff to the right and fumbled at the half-yard line. In the corner of the end zone, Amaro had Minnesota safety Derrick Wells on the ground when he threw a punch.
Officials ejected Amaro, walked off a 15-yard penalty and Tech wound up having a field goal blocked.
"That was the one in the second half that was disappointing," Thomsen said. "That was the only part of the game I was disappointed in. The guys could have done a better job keeping their head, but I'm not going to let that take away from a great win."
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