Gophers steam’Roehl’ed

NDSU junior running back Tyler Roehl rushed for 263 yards against Minnesota on Saturday.

by Nick Gerhardt

Almost one year ago, chants of “Fire Mason” rang through the Metrodome against North Dakota State. On Saturday, only the thundering sound of the Bison running game was heard as NDSU rumbled through the Minnesota defense en route to a 27-21 victory.

The Bison (7-0 overall, 1-0 Great West) destroyed the Gophers’ defense, rushing for 394 yards on 49 carries. Junior running back Tyler Roehl ran over defenders, carried defenders and dragged defenders to lead the team in rushing with 266 yards on 22 carries, averaging a gaudy 12 yards per carry on his way to setting a school record.

Last weekend, Minnesota (1-7 overall, 0-4 Big Ten) could not stop Northwestern and their aerial attack, but it became evident quickly that the defense didn’t have a chance against the Bison run.

Entering the game with NDSU, the Gophers were allowing an average of 526 yards of offense per game, easily the worst in the Big Ten. Next to Minnesota are the Wildcats and they surrender 107 yards less per game.

The Gophers had a very difficult time bringing down Roehl and company as the Bison gained 585 yards of total offense and the problem seemed to lie with tackling.

“We have not tackled as well as we need to tackle.” head coach Tim Brewster said. “It’s been an issue all season long.”

Roehl stands at 5 feet 10 inches, weighs 233 pounds and wears the No. 40 and his style drew comparisons to the tough tackle pro Mike Alstott who dons the same number for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“He’s probably one of the toughest backs to bring down that I’ve ever faced,” senior Dominique Barber said.

As atrocious as the defense has looked all season, nothing compared to the ineptitude of the offense.

Redshirt freshman Adam Weber followed his best performance with one of his worst, going 10-22 with 162 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and had a pass intercepted in the fourth quarter.

Weber overthrew open receivers multiple times and threw what amounted to a jump ball to senior Ernie Wheelwright during a crucial fourth quarter drive. NDSU cornerback Nate Agbetola, who stands at 5 feet 8 inches, out jumped the 6 feet 5 inches Wheelwright to intercept the ball.

The Bison had just taken a 24-21 lead with a little under 13 minutes left when sophomore kick returner Marcus Sherels gave Minnesota tremendous field position at their 42-yard line. Weber threw two strikes on successive plays and both times resulted in drops. That set the stage for a forced pass to Wheelwright to gain first-down yardage but the turnover finished any hopes for the Gophers to win the game.

“I definitely wasn’t on with my passing game. There were a lot of open routes,” Weber said.

Minnesota had another opportunity late in the ball game to stage a comeback, but shot themselves in the foot with a roughing the punter penalty with 1:48 left in the game.

It was the first stop the Gophers had made in the fourth quarter but Brewster decided to call for a block. Senior Dominique Barber ran into the kicker and got tagged with a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down for NDSU. The Bison iced the game from there and ended 100 years of losing to Minnesota.

“It was my decision at the end of the football game to go for the block. Unfortunately we roughed the punter and game over,” Brewster said.

Game over indeed and game over for the Gophers and their Bowl hopes as the Bison handed them the defeat that ended their eligibility for postseason play.

Minnesota started the game strong when they went three plays for 60 yards in 1:02 for a 7-0 lead. Sitting on the NDSU 20-yard line sophomore receiver Eric Decker took a hand off from Weber and threw a strike to freshman receiver Ralph Spry to the far side of the end zone.

The Bison quickly responded with a three play 80-yard drive when Roehl caught a swing pass that counted as a rush and outran the Gophers defense for a 77-yard touchdown.

Minnesota went three and out on their next three possessions and NDSU took advantage by scoring the go-ahead touchdown at the end of the first quarter when senior quarterback Steve Walker capped off a nine-play, 71-yard drive with a play action pass to junior full back Tyler Jangula for a 14-7 lead.

The Gophers drew even in the second quarter when senior running back Amir Pinnix finished a great 11 play 52 yard drive that included a pivotal 4th and 1 conversion from the 3-yard line.

The Bison got the ball with 34 seconds remaining in the half and they used every nanosecond as they gave the ball to Roehl, who took off for a 68-yard gain that placed NDSU at the Minnesota 25-yard line. The Bison kicked a field goal to take a 17-14 advantage into halftime with Roehl carrying the team.

The Gophers yielded 259 yards at half time and Roehl accounted for 202 of them.

Minnesota opened the second half with their defense stopping NDSU on their first possession. When the Gophers regained possession, freshman running back Duane Bennett responded when he took a screen pass from Weber and ran 32 yards to give Minnesota a brief 21-17 lead.

The Bison, off the ensuing kick, began a 10 play 75-yard drive that ate up 3:47 on the clock and grabbed the lead when Walker found sophomore tight end Thor Brown for a seven-yard touchdown and a 24-21 lead.

The next possession for the Gophers resulted in the jump ball pass to Wheelwright which essentially ended the comeback hopes for Minnesota and NDSU thundered onto the field for celebration.

“We’ve been in some heartbreakers now. Every game has been a nail biter,” Brewster said.