Ellestad helps Gophers escape

Kicker’s debut propels team to win.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. âÄî Eric Ellestad found action early and pressure late. In his first game as the Gophers kicker, the junior added two extra points to Gophers touchdowns within three minutes and 12 seconds of kicking off the season opener against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome . Three hours later, his kick would determine whether the Gophers started on a high note or went home 0-1. After standing on the sideline during the Gophers fourth-quarter drive, Ellestad, who had made a 26-yard field goal in his first career attempt in the third quarter, came in to try another one from the same distance with 1:01 remaining in regulation. Earlier in the fourth quarter, his first attempt at the game-tying field goal âÄî from 47 yards away âÄî had been tipped at the line of scrimmage and fallen well short of the goal posts. Ellestad converted his second chance to tie the game at 20-20 with 57 seconds left. Then on MinnesotaâÄôs first overtime possession, he was entrusted with the Gophers fate once again, with a chance to end the game on a 35-yard attempt. âÄúIâÄôve dreamt about it since I was a little kid, but I never thought of it happening in my first official game,âÄù Ellestad said. After Minnesota used a timeout, Syracuse also called one to ice Ellestad. But a little extra thinking time was not enough to lead his game winning kick astray. After kicking the Gophers to a 23-20 win, Ellestad said he felt more pressure when attempting the game winner than the game tier. âÄúIt was my first time ever kicking in a big time situation,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôm just glad it happened.âÄù Ellestad, who made 18 of 26 field goal attempts in his career at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in Plymouth, Minn., surpassed that conversion rate with a three-for-four performance on Saturday, although it doesnâÄôt get much better than making the game tying and winning field goals. âÄúAs a young guy, whoâÄôs never played before in this environment, for him to do what he did, really, itâÄôs special,âÄù head coach Tim Brewster said. With Saturday under his belt, Ellestad comes home a hero after week one. Running game a work in progress After SaturdayâÄôs game, Brewster said his team has plenty of work to do, including the continual development of the running game. Although the Gophers amassed 112 rushing yards (their highest total since a 27-20 win at Illinois on Oct. 11, 2008), they managed to average only 3.5 yards per carry. Sophomores Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge were the primary running backs, although only Bennett carried the ball in the final three drives of regulation. Bennett finished with 16 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown, while Eskridge finished with eight carries for 29 yards. âÄúI thought that we made a much better effort to run the football,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúI thought the backs ran hard. We had some good runs, we had some negative runs, but I really feel like the running game is going to be a positive thing for us as we move forward.âÄù Records watch Junior quarterback Adam Weber threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Troy Stoudermire in the first quarter for his 40th career passing touchdown. He tied Cory Sauter (1994-97) for third place on the Gophers all-time passing touchdowns list. Bryan Cupito (2003-06) and Asad Abdul-Khaliq (2000-03) hold the record with 55 touchdown passes each. Weber also moved into third place in career passing attempts by tossing the ball 42 times on Saturday. He surpassed Marquel Fleetwood (1989-92, 876 attempts), and raised his career total to 901. Weber needs just eight completions to set the Gophers career mark. With 183 receiving yards, senior wide receiver Eric Decker moved past Ernie Wheelwright (2004-2007, 2,434 yards) into third place on the all-time receiving list. Decker now has 2,544 career receiving yards. Decker also tied Ron Johnson (1998-2001) for third place in career 100-yard receiving games with his eighth on Saturday. With another 100-yard performance, Decker will move into a tie for second place with Ryan Thelwell (1994-96) who had nine.