LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) -- The death of Minnesota Gopher Brandon Hall brought both distraction and motivation to his teammates in Minnesota's 35-11 victory over Sun Belt Conference foe Louisiana Lafayette.
But after a sluggish start on defense, offense and special teams, the grieving Gophers beat the Ragin' Cajuns on Saturday night in their first game since Hall was shot and killed six days earlier.
"We just kept playing hard, and in the back of everybody's mind, we were saying, 'This game is for B. Hall,' " Gophers cornerback Mike Lehan said. "It was a very intense, grueling week. There was no better way to end it than to honor B. Hall with a win. We're proud of ourselves."
Wearing patches with Hall's number 71 on them, the Gophers (2-0) weathered a night that saw the Ragin' Cajuns (0-2) take a 3-0 lead on the first drive of the game.
Louisiana Lafayette moved within five points, 14-9, on Nick Dugas' 68-yard punt return with 11:25 left in the third quarter.
The Gophers defense stiffened after the opening drive as the offense jumped on the broad shoulders of 6-6, 250-pound tight end Ben Utecht. Utecht caught a career-high three touchdown passes from Asad Abdul-Khaliq, who threw a career-high fourth to running back Terry Jackson.
The Ragin' Cajuns had 50 yards and three first downs on their first drive, which ended with a 31-yard field goal by Sean Comiskey. They had four first downs, 83 yards and committed three turnovers that led to touchdowns in their last 13 series.
"It was a very emotional week," said free safety Eli Ward, who had the first two interceptions of his career. "Brandon was with us all week, and it was hard to focus. On the other hand, we used Brandon as motivation."
The Gophers took the lead for good at 7-3 on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Utecht with 14:54 left in the first half. Utecht finished with seven catches for 78 yards and caught two other touchdown passes, of 1 and 23 yards. The latter came on the series after the Ragin' Cajuns made it a 14-9 game.
"That first touchdown was important because we needed to get everyone's mind focused to play," Utecht said. "We made a lot of mistakes, but a true family doesn't give up on one another. We proved tonight we're a family."
Unlike last week's crisp 42-0 victory over Southwest Texas State, the Gophers looked distracted against the Ragin' Cajuns.
A week after committing three penalties for 35 yards, the Gophers had 10 penalties for 53 yards. They had three penalties in their first nine offensive plays, including a false start on their first play. That came at the Gophers' 5-yard line after the team muffed its first kickoff return.
The worst performance of the night was turned in by the Gophers' punt team. Punter Preston Gruening had a 34-yard punt returned for a touchdown, a punt blocked through the end zone for a safety and shanked his first punt, a 30-yarder.
"The kicking game was atrocious," Gophers coach Glen Mason said.
Mason praised the defense for getting tougher after the first drive. He also liked some of what the offense did as it rolled up 458 yards, including 212 rushing, led by Thomas Tapeh's 68 yards on 10 carries and Jackson's 60 yards on 15 carries.
"I would be concerned about this game anyway," Mason said. "But with all the things that were going around in our program, they're young kids. From a mental standpoint, they weren't there, and that's understandable. I'm a grown man, and my mind wasn't there."
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