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Penalties crucial in Saturday loss

Minnesota’s football team had a great game.

Key word: had.

Both running backs, Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell, rushed for career highs in yardage, linebacker Mario Reese filled in for injured Mike Sherels for the second straight game and forced two fumbles, and quarterback Tony Mortensen had a solid showing in his first career start in place of injured starter Bryan Cupito.

But all the positives were erased by a three minute, 27 second collapse. And penalties early kept Wisconsin in it.

“You always look back at plays that could change the outcome of the game,” coach Glen Mason said. “Do I think all those calls were correct? I don’t know, but we needed to capitalize on those.”

Penalties cost the Gophers 14 points, and even more could be credited to the mental mishaps.

The first missed opportunity came after the Gophers opened the game with a three and out and were forced to punt to Wisconsin.

Badgers punt returner Brandon Williams settled under the punt without a fair catch signal, and the Gophers’ third running back Amir Pinnix hit Williams to jar the ball loose. Dominique Barber picked up the fumble for the Gophers and returned it for a touchdown.

Flag on the play.

An illegal formation penalty on Minnesota brought the play back, and Gophers fans collectively groaned the first of many groans.

Another missed opportunity came with the Gophers already up 27-17 when a scoring drive vanished on a holding call late in the third quarter.

And they needed those extra points.

“I didn’t think (the game) was necessarily in hand,” Russell said. “There was still three minutes left on the clock. I knew they could still get down the field and score.”

Maroney rushed off the right side for a 14-yard touchdown, but the play was called back due to a holding call on offensive tackle Tony Brinkhaus.

Following a 2-yard run from Maroney and an incomplete pass by Mortensen, kicker Jason Giannini missed a 40-yard field goal attempt that would have put the Gophers up 30-17.

These mistakes made for a close game and eventually were overshadowed for that very reason by the bigger down-the-stretch mistakes.

All of which led to an eventual 31-27 loss.

“That was something that I would have never imagined happening, but it did,” Maroney said. “You just have to take it. It hit me, but I can’t really do too much about it.”

And the Gophers can’t do anything about it for another two weeks, when they play host to Ohio State.

“I kind of wish we didn’t have a bye week now so we could get the sour taste out of our mouth sooner,” defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery said. “But we got to let it linger around for two weeks, so it’s kind of tough.”

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