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Odenigbo's Fumble Return Provides Turning Point in Win vs. Chargers

CARSON, Calif. — Of all the teams to root for growing up, Ifeadi Odenigbo was a Chargers fan because he liked Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and longtime quarterback Philip Rivers.

The Vikings defensive end played his first game against his childhood team Sunday and delivered the highlight of a lifetime when he scored on a game-changing, 56-yard fumble return at the end of the first half.

"It was pretty cool. That was my first-ever career touchdown," Odenigbo said. "Never got one in high school. Never got one in college. Being able to get one in L.A. is pretty neat."

Minnesota led 12-10 at the time of the touchdown. By the time Odenigbo crossed the goal line with just seven seconds left in the second quarter, the Vikings had put their stamp on the game.

"That was a big play. He hustles all the time, so that was great for us," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said of Odenigbo. "The game was kind of going back and forth at that point, so for us to get that right before the half was really big."

Multiple Vikings had a hand in the play, beginning with Danielle Hunter.

The defensive end breezed past Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who attempted to chip him, before powering through right tackle Sam Tevi and knocking the ball out of Rivers' hand.

"I didn't even notice the chipper," the 6-foot-5 Hunter said of the 5-10 Ekeler. "I was locked in on the tackle. We knew [Rivers] was going to try to get the ball out quick so we went with our quickest rush.

"I went to power to make him hold the ball. I reached for the ball and the rest happened," Hunter said.

The Chargers began the play with the ball at the Vikings 26-yard line. But by the time Hunter knocked it away, the pigskin had rolled back to the Vikings 40.

Ekeler raced back to corral it, only to be brought down by linebacker Eric Kendricks, who kept the play alive by knocking the ball away.

"I was a tackler on that play," Kendricks said. "I was kind of on the sideline, so I knew he was going to jump and get the ball. I held him by the waist."

Kendricks wasn't credited with a forced fumble on the play … much to his chagrin.

"It wasn't? I feel like he had possession," Kendricks said. "I waited until he picked it up and then knocked it out."

Odenigbo, who has missed a chance to get the ball immediately after the fumble, then pounced on the ball at the Vikings 44.

"I saw the ball there and I thought, 'Alright, I get a second chance.' I was fortunate enough to pick up the ball," Odenigbo said.

Hunter's force had started the play, and now his speed was about to extend it, as he raced downfield and threw a block on left tackle Russell Okung at the Chargers 35.

"I knew there was going to be at least one dude in front of him," Hunter said. "I saw the dude and ran with all my might to block him. I knew if we blocked him, then Ifeadi would be able to score."

View postgame celebration images that followed the Vikings win over the Chargers.

The defensive end had thwarted both Chargers offensive tackles on the play … and now Odenigbo was home free.

"I didn't even realize that," Hunter said of beating both Tevi and Okung. "I'm glad that happened … I'm happy for [Odenigbo].

"It was his first touchdown," Hunter said. "When we play together, things like that happen."

Odenigbo then cruised into the end zone, one of four fumble recoveries and seven total takeaways by the Vikings defense on Sunday.

"I saw Danielle put in an excellent block. I was fortunate to score the touchdown but it was good, complementary football," Odenigbo said. "Coach Zimmer always harps on pursuit and effort, and that was quite the effort from Danielle and EK."

The Vikings went into the half up 19-10 after Odenigbo's massive score. They then dominated in the second half as they outscored the Chargers by a 20-0 margin.

But if you're looking for a turning point in Sunday's game, it came when Hunter knocked the ball loose, Kendricks kept the play alive, Odenigbo picked up the rock, Hunter threw a block and Odenigbo coasted right into the end zone.

Said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins: "Ifeadi's touchdown at the end of the half was the play of the game."

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