Minn. fights to earn Halloween treat

Junior quarterback Adam Weber shined in the Gophers win.

Minn. fights to earn Halloween treat

Marco LaNave

It couldnâÄôt have been much crazier on Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium . The Gophers overcame the absence of their best player, a Big Ten penalty record, two squandered chances with great field position and 24 second-half points by Michigan State in a 42-34 victory over the Spartans. Minnesota used its best offensive performance in two years, a breakout game from its quarterback, two goal-line stands and a fortunate bounce or two in its fourth fourth-quarter-comeback victory of the season. The craziest game in the brief history of TCF Bank Stadium and the most emotional game since the opener made for the most rockinâÄô Halloween party in the Twin Cities. It concluded with senior captain and wide receiver Eric Decker receiving the game ball just a few hours after announcing that his college football career was over and he would have surgery on his sprained left foot this week. âÄúThis game was about Eric Decker,âÄù Gophers head coach Tim Brewster said. âÄú[Winning without him] says so much about our football team âĦ Our players being able to give the game ball to Eric Decker in the locker room was a very special moment for us all.âÄù The prospect of that moment drove the Gophers through a game of huge plays and momentum swings. âÄúI just wanted to have a game where we would come away and be able to give Eric the game ball,âÄù said junior quarterback Adam Weber, who threw for a career-high 416 yards and became the Gophers all-time leading passer without his roommate and favorite target. After three weeks without a completion to the end zone, Weber tied a career high with five touchdowns. âÄúI think [WeberâÄôs performance] shows a lot of character; heâÄôs been getting a lot of heat these past two weeks. Most people would go and hide in a corner,âÄù senior linebacker Lee Campbell said. âÄúIâÄôm really happy that he played well today because he wants it more than anybody, and to come back from that kind of adversity, it means a lot.âÄù Weber now has 7,509 passing yards, which tops the 7,446 yards by Bryan Cupito (2003-06). Weber led an offense that converted 10-of-18 third downs and held the ball for 36:08, all season highs. In amassing 505 yards of total offense (their highest total since Oct. 13, 2007 , at Northwestern), the Gophers showed unprecedented early explosiveness. On the first play from scrimmage, Weber dropped back on a play action and threw to a wide-open sophomore running back Duane Bennett on the left side. Bennett ran down the sideline, was hit by a Spartan defender, but managed to dance down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown. It was the longest reception of BennettâÄôs career and the GophersâÄô longest play from scrimmage this season. Minnesota recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff but faced third and 19 after the first of a Big Ten-record 17 penalties. With great protection, though, Weber threw a perfect 37-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Brandon Green, who caught his first touchdown of the season. The 14-0 lead in the first 1:47 was the quickest the Gophers have scored two touchdowns in a game under Brewster. The Spartans had to catch their breath before eventually matching the outburst. Michigan StateâÄôs first three touchdowns came on scoring drives of less than one minute. The Spartans turned an interception into a second-quarter touchdown, and they scored two touchdowns in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Wide receiver Keshawn Martin returned the second-half kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown and later took a handoff 84 yards for another score. Yet Minnesota still held a 28-24 lead when Weber fumbled a handoff to Bennett deep in Minnesota territory. The Spartans took three plays to take their first lead, 31-28, on an 11-yard pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins to tight end Dion Sims. At that point, the Gophers could have reflected on missed chances to break away, including two possessions in Spartans territory that ended with no points. A second-quarter drive off a Spartans fumble went all of 6 yards, and a career-best 71-yard kick return by sophomore Troy Stoudermire was wasted when Minnesota retreated 18 yards and missed a 48-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. Weber needed to add to his first-half heroics. âÄú[Weber] never shied away; he really stayed in, really was our leader,âÄù Bennett said. âÄúNobody on offense lost faith in what we were trying to do as a team, and we knew that, with Weber at the helm, we were going to be able to make plays.âÄù Weber found sophomore wide receiver DaâÄôJon McKnight for a 53-yard pass to set up a go-ahead 2-yard touchdown to senior tight end Nick Tow-Arnett. Then the defense came up with its second big stop. The Gophers had held Michigan State to a field goal after first and goal at the 4-yard line in the first quarter. In the fourth, they had to protect a 35-31 lead as the Spartans had first and goal at the 1. Michigan State lost a yard on two rushes, couldnâÄôt complete a third-down pass and settled for a field goal with 8:10 remaining. The Gophers found some luck on their next possession. Tow-Arnett appeared to make a second-down catch and fumble the ball back to the Spartans, but a review called the pass incomplete. On the next play âÄî third and 17 âÄî Weber threw to Tow-Arnett inside the Spartans 40-yard line. Tow-Arnett was hit hard and juggled the ball as he fell to the ground. The ball bounced off his forearm into the arms of Bennett, who was running to block on the play. Bennett sprinted past the Spartans defenders for a touchdown. Instead of trying to protect a one-point lead in their territory, the Gophers opened an eight-point margin. âÄúWhen things go your way, they go your way; what can I say?âÄù said Tow-Arnett, who entered the game as the GophersâÄô top pass-catcher behind Decker and had eight receptions for 81 yards, both career highs. Bennett got credit for a 59-yard touchdown reception, the last of WeberâÄôs six completions of more than 30 yards that went to five different receivers. âÄúOffense is momentum-driven, and when you start rolling âĦ confidence breeds confidence,âÄù Weber said. âÄúAll those guys had opportunities, and they stepped up, and they made the big play.âÄù