Northwestern overcame key errors

by Josh Katzenstein

Northwestern did everything it could to give SaturdayâÄôs game away in the first three quarters. Even after stealing a 29-28 win at Minnesota, coach Pat Fitzgerald said he needs a haircut to remove a few new grays. Junior quarterback Dan Persa had both a fumble and an interception in the red zone. The Wildcats also suffered another fumble, 10 penalties covering 79 yards and a missed extra point. But the Wildcats won and are 5-0 (1-0 Big Ten) while the Gophers (1-4, 0-1 Big Ten) saw their losing streak reach four games. âÄúWe talk a lot about flushing things that happen well and that happen bad, and youâÄôve got to just move forward and continue to persevere,âÄù Fitzgerald said. Northwestern kept fighting and overcame a number of self-inflicted errors that could have cost the team its unblemished record. The interception on the Minnesota 11-yard line was more frustrating than the fumble on the six for Persa, he said, because he could have just thrown it away. The Gophers also scored a go-ahead touchdown on the ensuing drive while the defense stopped the Gophers after his fumble. Persa didnâÄôt falter after the third quarter interception. Instead, he proceeded to lead a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and finished with 309 yards passing, 99 yards rushing and two aerial touchdowns. âÄúI heard a long time ago, and I believe in it, that life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent what you do about it once it happens,âÄù Fitzgerald said. âÄúI think our guys have that 90 percent figured out.âÄù The Wildcats proved to have a tough skin Saturday, but the defense allowed 14 points off the three turnovers, including a two-play scoring drive after receiver Venric MarkâÄôs fumble. Linebacker Bryce McNaul âÄîan Eden Prairie graduate âÄî said the defense only worried about what it could control, and when linebacker Ben Johnson intercepted Adam Weber in the final minute, that proved to be enough. âÄúThe attitude was to put the fire out,âÄù McNaul said. âÄúA firefighter, heâÄôs not going to ask âÄòWhy did the fire start?âÄô âÄúHeâÄôs just going to go do his job.âÄù The combination of losing the turnover battle (three to one) and having 10 penalties often results in a loss. But the Wildcats won in enough other categories to come out on top. Northwestern out-gained Minnesota by 119 yards. The Wildcats also earned nine more first downs than the Gophers and converted eight-of-11 third downs. When Stefan DemosâÄô 27-yard field goal went through with 2:07 remaining, the Wildcats also proved they had more of something not listed on the stat sheet: determination. âÄúThe pressure put on us made people step up, and I think thatâÄôs why we won,âÄù Persa said. As for the losers, Minnesota has stressed stopping the big plays. NorthwesternâÄôs penalties forced critical plays to become longer and thus more frustrating for the defense that couldnâÄôt shut the Wildcats down. âÄúWhen they have penalties, we have to capitalize on it,âÄù Gophers safety Kyle Theret said. âÄúWhen they get a penalty on third down to make it third and 10-plus, we have to get off the field âĦ WeâÄôve just got to finish, get off the field [and] let the offense go to work.âÄù Related: – Gophers fall to NorthwesternGophers vs. Northwestern live blogNotebook: Eskridge carried loadGophers looking for fresh start in conference play (9/30)