EVANSTON, Ill. -…

by Jeff Sherry

EVANSTON, Ill. — Amid the shouts from the standing crowd, grunts from the battered players and screams from the frenzied coaches, one inaudible noise emanated throughout Dyche Stadium late Saturday afternoon:
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
To the Gophers football team, it was pure torture. They trailed No. 15 Northwestern by just two points, and every moment had become precious. Another 15 yards would’ve set up a last-second, game-winning field goal attempt. But that incessant sound just wouldn’t go away:
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Like the beating heart from Poe’s “Tell-tale Heart,” the scoreboard clock haunted the Gophers on Saturday. Its silent, steady pulse proved costly to Minnesota, which ran out of time and lost a 26-24 heartbreaker to the Wildcats.
“To come that stinking close and not win — against a good football team — that just hurts,” said Minnesota coach Jim Wacker, his eyes red and voice breaking. “It just makes you sick.”
Wacker took the loss extremely hard Saturday, as did many of his players. After coming back from a 23-0 halftime deficit, the team missed a huge opportunity against the defending Big Ten champions. Minnesota’s record fell to 0-2 in the conference, 3-2 overall. Northwestern (5-1 overall) is now 3-0 in the Big Ten.
“It kind of makes you dizzy,” Gophers nose guard Ogun Akbar said. “We just showed again that you can’t wait until the last minute to rectify all your mistakes. You’ve got to start out from the get-go.”
Minnesota almost made up for its slow start in the second half, but couldn’t complete the comeback. Northwestern kicker Brian Gowins missed his third field goal of the game with 1:29 remaining, and the Gophers started the game’s final drive with two time outs and the ball at their own 20-yard line.
It began with a quarterback draw by Minnesota’s Cory Sauter. After two passes to Paul Kratochvil, Sauter called time out with 36 seconds left, then hit split end Ryan Thelwell for a first down on the Wildcats’ 49-yard line. The clock stopped for the officials to move the chains, and that’s when things started falling apart.
When time started running again, Minnesota was just lining up for its next play. But Sauter didn’t like what he saw from Northwestern’s defense. He changed the play at the line and checked to make sure everyone knew their new assignments. The play finally got off, Sauter was sacked and he used the final time out with three seconds left.
“They were bringing some pressure up the edge and we had to get into a different protection scheme,” Sauter said. “It was difficult with the noise and everything to make sure everybody knew what they were doing, so it kind of burned some of our time. We have to be a little more efficient.”
The Gophers set up to throw into the end zone on their final play, but once again, their pass protection collapsed. Thor Schmidt hit Sauter as he released the ball and it fell incomplete near the 30-yard line.
After the game, Wacker deflected the blame from Sauter’s shoulders.
“He should never have audibled,” Wacker said. “But that’s not his fault. That’s my mistake. It’s a coaching mistake. The quarterback has to know you don’t audible in that situation — you throw it away.”
Had Minnesota played better in the first half, it might not have needed to come back. Northwestern quarterback Steve Schnur stole the show from Heisman Trophy candidate Darnell Autry in the first half by completing 14 of 16 passes for 239 yards.
While Northwestern was establishing its passing game, the Gophers were establishing their punting game. Minnesota punted five times in the half, earned only two first downs, and never reached Wildcat territory.
Minnesota got back in the game by scoring on its opening drive of the second half and returning a blocked punt for a touchdown. But the clock had already been ticking too long.
“It seems like once we get in a groove and have somebody beat the heck out of us a little bit, then we step up to the challenge,” said Lamanzar Williams. “That’ll kill us if we continue to do that. Think about it — if we play any type of defense in the first half, we go home winners.”

GAME SUMMARY
Gophers 0 0 18 6 — 24
Northwestern 16 7 3 0 — 26

First Quarter
NU — Autry 1 run (Gowins kick) 9:13
NU — Bates 66 pass from Schnur (kick failed) 6:35
NU — FG Gowins 30, 0:38
Second Quarter
NU — Schnur 1 run (Gowins kick) 0:41
Third Quarter
Min — Hamner 1 run (Bailey kick) 11:51
NU — FG Gowins 48, 6:28
Min — FG Bailey 31, 2:04
Min — Hutton 30 blocked punt return (Atwell pass from Sauter) 0:04
Fourth Quarter
Min — Thelwell 17 pass from Sauter (pass failed) 8:30
A — 35,848
T — 3:27

TEAM STATISTICS
First Downs: Min 18, NU 28. Rushing Yards: Min 121, NU 219. Passing Yards: Min 154, NU 278. Total Yards: Min 275, NU 497. Fumbles Lost: Min 0, NU 0. Possession Time: Min 25:33, NU 34:27.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING — Minnesota, Hamner 26-128, Jackson 2-2, Sauter 5-(-9). Northwestern, D. Autry 41-189, Schnur 9-26, A. Autry 3-4.
PASSING — Minnesota, Sauter 17-31-0 154. Northwestern, 17-25-0 278.
RECEIVING — Minnesota, Kratochvil 5-42, Atwell 4-30, Hutton 3-34, Nelson 2-14, Thelwell 2-30, Hubbard 1-4. Northwestern, Bates 5-120, B. Musso 5-50, Beazley 3-47, Drexler 2-26, Burden 1-11, McGrew 1-7, D. Autry 1-17.