Gophers attempt to put loss behind them in win

by Brian Stensaas

LAFAYETTE, La. – Leading up to Saturday’s game against LouisianañLafayette, Minnesota’s football team talked about nothing but togetherness.

They talked about being a family rather than a team and coming together as one to cope with the loss of defensive tackle Brandon Hall, who was shot and killed in the early morning hours of Sept. 1.

The Cajuns did their part in that motto of coming together. After the dust had cleared following the Gophers’ 35ñ11 win at Cajun Field, both team’s benches gathered in the middle and took a knee to remember Hall. For a brief moment, nothing mattered. Not the score, not the mistakes, not even the uncomfortable humidity.

“(Hall) is who the game was for, without a doubt,” cornerback Mike Lehan said. “I’m glad we were able to pull out a win. We can’t honor him enough. This game was for him and that’s what kept us in it until the end.”

While Minnesota (2ñ0) honored Hall with a win, all his teammates and staff also recognized him with a small No. 71 patch on their respective jerseys and shirts. In addition, some players wore pins with gold wings and a maroon 71 after the game.

The 20,512 in attendance observed a pre-game moment of silence to remember Hall and two Louisiana-Lafayette personnel who passed away in the off-season.

Once the game began it appeared the Gophers weren’t quite ready for the hostile “Swamp.” First, Minnesota trailed 3ñ0 after a Sean Comiskey field goal. ThenAntoine Burns and Zack Kartak muffed the ensuing kickoff, forcing Minnesota to start its first drive of the game from its five-yard line.

Things didn’t get much better until the first play of the second quarter when tight end Ben Utecht came to the rescue.

The 6-foot-6 Utecht was lined up with 6-foot-1 cornerback Ivan Taylor – a converted running back – the majority of the evening and took advantage. Utecht hauled in a career-high three touchdowns. His catch from three yards out put Minnesota on the scoreboard and rejuvenated a distracted team.

“Not only did it mean getting our team going in the game after what happened last weekend, it got our emotion going,” Utecht said. “Anyone could have scored that touchdown. We needed it to get everybody’s mind focused and attitudes ready to play. I was glad to get the opportunity.”

Two of Utecht’s three touchdown catches came on what is becoming a trademark play. Utecht lines up, fades into the corner of the end zone and lets his lanky frame do the rest. His play helped Minnesota to 458 total yards of offense while limiting Louisiana-Lafayette (0ñ2) to just 133 yards.

Utecht’s spark ignited the Gophers’ attack but it was evident the flame was not burning as bright. Minnesota committed 10 penalties for 53 yards, one week after a virtually clean game against Southwest Texas State.

The kicking game also suffered, namely the punting. Preston Gruening had one punt blocked for a safety, another returned by Nick Dugas for a 68ñyard touchdown and a few others nearly blocked. Coach Glen Mason called the Gophers’ kicking “atrocious.”

The punt return made it a 14ñ9 game, but as the game wore on, the Cajun defense wore out.

Utecht’s 23ñyard reception with 7:45 to play in the third quarter put Louisiana-Lafayette behind 21ñ9. Backup running backs Terry Jackson II and Renato Fitzpatrick each found the end zone in the fourth quarter to put the finishing touches on a trying week.

“We were playing for B.,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s something we have to play with in our minds. It’s still at the surface. But we’ll play through it for sure.”

Given everything the team has gone through, a slow start to Saturday’s game could have been predicted. Afterwards, Mason focused on the contest rather than the events of the previous Sunday. He did, however, know what was in store for the team.

“I would have been concerned about this game anyway but I knew it would be tough,” Mason said. “These are young kids with a lot on their plate.”

“From a mental standpoint they weren’t there. That’s understandable. I’m a grown man and my mind wasn’t there.”

Funeral plans set

The Gophers will leave Monday morning to attend Hall’s funeral in Southfield, Mich., and return later Monday evening.

Minnesota does not practice on Mondays.

Mason said the entire team will travel for the funeral. The trip was provided by a private benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous, said a media relations spokesperson.

Broback verbals

eastview senior Jamie Broback made a verbal commitment to coach Pam Borton and Minnesota women’s basketball team last week, her mother Bev confirmed Sunday.

She chose Minnesota over Boston College, Indiana, Illinois, Marquette and Wisconsin. Broback will begin competing for the 2003-04 season.

The 6-foot-2 center averaged 20 points, 11.5 rebounds and two blocks for the Lightning last season.

NCAA rules prohibit Borton from commenting on recruits until they have signed a national letter of intent. Broback can sing in Novemeber.

Broback is the third Minnesota high school player to commit to the Gophers, following Lakeville center Liz Podominick and Fosston guard Kelly Roysland.

Podominich and Roysland verbally committed early this summer.

Men’s hockey tickets

applications are now being taken at the Minnesota Athletics Ticket Office in Mariucci Arena for student season tickets for the 2002-2003 men’s ice hockey season. Students must register for a minimum of six credits during the fall semester at the University of Minnesota in order to qualify and all student season tickets will be assigned by lottery.

Students are allowed to purchase up to two season tickets, and can purchase either a full season ticket, or a partial season ticket for either the first or second game of each home series. The price for a full student season ticket is $239 for 26 games, which includes a ticket for the October 12th Hall of Fame Game at Xcel Energy Center against Ohio State. Partial student season tickets cost $135 each. All student season ticket holders will receive a limited edition student section T-shirt with their purchase.

To order student season tickets, students should bring their student ID to the ticket office at Mariucci Arena and fill out an application. The ordering deadline is Friday, September 13, 2002.

For more information, call the Gopher Ticket Office at (612) 624-8080.