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Dave Campbell / AP Sports Writer, Published September 15 2012

Gopher rally behind Shortell, beat Western Michigan

MINNEAPOLIS – An injury to MarQueis Gray was arguably the last development Minnesota could afford this season.

Well, Gray got hurt, and the quarterback change was just what the Gophers needed to get going.

Max Shortell replaced Gray and passed for 188 yards and three touchdowns, helping Minnesota overcome a sluggish start to beat Western Michigan 28-23 on Saturday.

“You don’t want to lose your starting quarterback to injury, so that was a tough pill to swallow, but we weren’t like, ‘Quies is out. There’s no hope.’ No, we know what Max can do. So we’re fine,” said Donnell Kirkwood, who rushed 23 times for a career-high 110 yards.

Gray sprained his left ankle in the second quarter with the Gophers (3-0) trailing, but Shortell steered a six-play, 78-yard march for the go-ahead score that A.J. Barker capped with his second of three touchdown receptions. The Broncos went three and out, and Shortell found Barker open on the sideline for a 53-yard catch-and-run to make it 21-10 with 30 seconds left before halftime.

“It’s almost second nature to go in there and do what you need to do. It’s a game. You go out there and try to have fun, and whatever happens, happens,” said Shortell, who finished 10 for 17 with one interception. He added: “Our offense was kind of stalled, so we had to get back on schedule.”

The shift from Gray’s scrambling style to Shortell, a pure pocket passer, was tough for the Broncos to adjust to.

“Take nothing away from Gray. He’s a great player, but the other guy can throw it around a little,” Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said. “I think that gave them a spark. You could sense it in the fans. I think they were struggling at that point offensively, and he gave them a much-needed boost for those guys.”

Gray was off, and the Gophers were calling a conservative game. He was 3 for 6-for-29 yards passing, plus 11 carries for 57 yards rushing. His last attempt ended badly, in a pile of tacklers with a serious injury. Gray watched the second half on crutches, with a wrap on his left knee and a boot on his left foot.

Antoin Scriven’s touchdown run for the Broncos cut the lead to 21-17 in the third quarter, but Shortell and the Gophers answered with a 9-yard scoring pass to tight end Drew Goodger to stretch the lead. The Gophers had only 10 touchdown passes last season, eight by Gray and two by Shortell. They have nine this year.

Dareyon Chance rushed 29 times for a career-high 144 yards and a touchdown for the Broncos (1-2), and Jaime Wilson caught 10 passes for 117 yards but Alex Carder had a number of overthrows while finishing 24 for 44 for 209 yards and one interception.

The Gophers went for it on fourth-and-15 at the WMU 34 with a little less than 6 minutes left in the game, and Shortell’s pass for Marcus Jones was overthrown. Carder’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Wilson capped a 66-yard cruise in barely 1½ minutes, pulling the Broncos with 28-23 after the 2-point conversion failed.

The Gophers haven’t been 3-0 since 2008. They’ve already matched their victory total in each of the last two seasons.

W. Michigan 3 7 7 6 – 23

Minnesota 7 14 7 0 – 28

First Quarter

WMU – FG Haldeman 35, 6:07.

Minn – Barker 10 pass from Gray (Wettstein kick), 2:00.

Second Quarter

WMU – Chance 6 run (Haldeman kick), 4:37.

Minn – Barker 9 pass from Shortell (Wettstein kick), 1:59.

Minn – Barker 53 pass from Shortell (Wettstein kick), :30.

Third Quarter

WMU – Scriven 1 run (Haldeman kick), 10:54.

Minn – Goodger 9 pass from Shortell (Wettstein kick), 7:13.

Fourth Quarter

WMU – Wilson 10 pass from Carder (pass failed), 4:18.

A – 44,921.

WMU Minn

First downs 21 19

Rushes-yards 38-165 43-180

Passing 209 217

Comp-Att-Int 24-44-1 13-24-1

Return Yards 3 18

Punts-Avg. 5-34.4 4-29.5

Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-1

Penalties-Yards 8-82 9-56

Time of Possession 27:52 32:08

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: W. Michigan, Chance 29-144, Fields 2-13, Carder 6-7,

Scriven 1-1. Minnesota, Kirkwood 23-110, Gray 11-57, Gillum 4-8,

Shortell 3-6, Jones 1-1, Team 1-(minus 2).

PASSING: W. Michigan, Carder 24-44-1-209. Minnesota,

Shortell 10-17-1-188, Gray 3-6-0-29, Maye 0-1-0-0.

RECEIVING: W. Michigan, Wilson 10-117, Schaffer 4-42, Hammond 3-26,

Chance 3-3, Cutler 2-7, Collins 1-9, Braverman 1-5. Minnesota,

Barker 5-101, Fruechte 3-39, Engel 2-39, Jones 1-16, Rabe 1-13,

Goodger 1-9.