Another painful Saturday for Minnesota

by Luke Middendorf

After their 40-20 loss last week to Indiana, Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said that it hurt a little more than normal.

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North dakota state
what: Football
when: 11 a.m., Saturday
where: Metrodome

But it was evident after Minnesota’s 49-48 loss to Northwestern that this game hurt the most.

The Wildcats (4-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten), came into Saturday’s game riding the momentum from their 48-41 overtime victory over Michigan State last week. They did not know, however, that they would need more than that to take down the Gophers for their second overtime victory in as many weeks.

Minnesota (1-6 overall, 0-4 Big Ten) did not get off to the start they hoped for as they were stopped on their first offensive possession. Northwestern then took full use of the spread offense by gaining 47 yards on a screen pass over the middle to put themselves in great scoring position.

The Wildcats followed the big play with a 1-yard touchdown run by Brandon Roberson to take their first lead of the game at 7-0.

The Gophers’ next two possessions were also unsuccessful, with the second resulting in a missed scoring opportunity with the ball on the 1-yard line.

Sophomore running back Jay Thomas, who started for the injured Duane Bennett and hobbled Amir Pinnix, was stopped from entering the end zone on four straight carries in the goal-line situation.

But Minnesota would rally on their next two possessions with a touchdown in each to take a 14-7 lead with 2:50 left in the half. The second touchdown drive featured two gutsy runs by the hobbled Pinnix, the latter being a head-over-heels dive into the end zone.

Northwestern answered by way of junior quarterback C.J. Bachér’s pass over Gophers cornerback Ryan Collado in the end zone to tie the game at 14.

With 1:23 left in the half and the ball on the Minnesota 35-yard line, freshman quarterback Adam Weber showed poise and leadership by taking the Gophers down the field by way of various short passes and one long pass that resulted in a 26-yard touchdown to fully extended senior wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright with just two seconds remaining.

“Weber was throwing the ball on point,” Wheelwright said. “He got the ball out there and my job is just to go and get the ball.”

For the next 13 minutes of play after the half, the game and the momentum swung in the Gophers’ favor.

It took Minnesota only 40 seconds to pick up its first touchdown of the second half as Pinnix started the drive with a 37-yard run. Weber then found sophomore Erik Decker in the flat and Decker used some key blocking and a nifty cut to get into the end zone and bring the score to 28-14.

The Gophers would again score on their next possession as Wheelwright grabbed his second touchdown of the day to push Minnesota up 35-14.

But Northwestern would not let Minnesota run all over them in their homecoming game, as they would intercept Weber twice in the fourth quarter and eventually fight back to get within one touchdown with just under two minutes remaining.

“It’s about shutting the door,” Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said about Northwestern’s comeback. “The most dangerous animal is a wounded animal. We’ve got to continue to learn to finish the job.”

The Gophers managed to put the Wildcats in a fourth-and-4 situation with just 12 seconds left in regulation near the goal line.

But Bachér was able to find receiver Eric Peterman in the end zone on fourth down, just barely before Gophers’ senior cornerback Jamal Harris dove in front of him.

With the game tied at 35 and heading into overtime, Minnesota gained the first possession. The veteran Wheelwright used his height and athleticism to snag his third touchdown of the day on a third down conversion and put the pressure on the Wildcats with the score at 42-35.

After various trick plays and crafty moves by Bachér, the junior signal-caller tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 42 and send it into double overtime.

Northwestern was on offense first to start the next overtime and again Bachér used some tricky pass fakes and hand-offs, which eventually resulted in a fake pass hand-off to Roberson to bring the score up to 49-42.

The Gopher’s offense then took the field and marched down to the 3-yard line. Weber then showed his own craftiness by selling an option toss which froze the defense and allowed him to glide into the end zone to get Minnesota down by just one point.

In a difficult decision, Brewster chose to go for the win and end the game one way or another with a two-point conversion attempt.

“My football team deserved to win, that’s why I went for two,” Brewster said.

Needless to say, on the attempt Weber could not evade the pass rush and threw an incomplete pass into the ground to leave the Gophers just one point away from their first Big Ten victory of the season.

“We had a good play. Nine out of 10 times we will make that play,” Weber said. “It’s just one of those things where they made a good defensive stop.”

Brewster didn’t seem to take it quite the same way.

“When you pour your heart and soul into something like this Ö and to come up short … I can’t even begin to tell you how bad it hurts,” a noticeably shocked and pained Brewster said following the game. “It’s just absolutely gut-wrenching.”