Missed chances plague Gophers

John Hageman

It started out how many people thought it would. The heavily favored Gophers won the coin toss, elected to receive, and in the blink of an eye kick returner Troy Stoudermire was inside South Dakota territory before the offense was on the field. The Gophers gained 30 yards on the first three plays from scrimmage and looked to be on their way to an opening-drive touchdown. But the Minnesota offense sputtered, committing a false start that would eventually force them to take a 27-yard field goal by senior Eric Ellestad . Three points are nice, but not an ideal ending to a drive that started at the CoyotesâÄô 46-yard line. âÄúI felt like it was a little demoralizing for us because we always talk about when we have opportunity, we want to be able to put points on the board,âÄù junior running back Duane Bennett said. âÄúGranted, three points is better than none, but at the same time we have to be able to capitalize on situations where we get the ball [in good field position] and be able to punch it in.âÄù The Gophers wouldnâÄôt score their first touchdown until the middle of the second quarter when senior quarterback Adam Weber connected with Stoudermire for a 49-yard touchdown. But by then, the Gophers were already looking at a 14-3 deficit. On the heels of that touchdown, and with the crowd back into the game after a slow start, sophomore Michael Carter intercepted South Dakota quarterback Dante WarrenâÄôs third-down pass, giving the Gophers offense prime field position at the CoyotesâÄô 32-yard line and a chance to take back the lead. But the GophersâÄô drive lasted all of three plays: a dropped pass by Tiree Eure in the endzone, a one-yard run by Bennett and an incomplete pass intended for MarQueis Gray . Ellestad would miss the 48-yard field goal and the Gophers still trailed 14-10. âÄúThereâÄôs a lot of opportunities out there that we missed out on,âÄù Weber said. âÄúIf thereâÄôs anything we learned from this game itâÄôs when given opportunity, you have to take advantage of it; you canâÄôt wait for the next drive or the next half because timeâÄôs going to run out on you.âÄù Indeed, time ran out on the Gophers; they never saw the lead after their opening-drive field goal. The defense had its share of opportunities slip away as well. The Coyotes converted on three third-down attempts on the opening drive of the second quarter, including the Will Powell touchdown catch on third-and-goal from the 14-yard line that gave South Dakota a 14-3 lead . The Gophers battled back late in the game to within three points when South Dakota faced a fourth-and-one situation at the GophersâÄô 36-yard line. Instead of trying to pin the Gophers or kick a deep field goal, the Coyotes faked a dive up the middle and Warren ran a bootleg untouched up the sideline for the touchdown. A one-possession game quickly became two . Later, with the Gophers trailing by three in the final minutes, the Coyotes faced third-and-four and needed a first down to run out the clock. They got that, too. The Gophers won nearly every statistical category Saturday, including first downs and total offensive yards while holding on to the ball for longer and committing fewer penalties. But they failed to edge South Dakota in the most important category: the final score . âÄúFootballâÄôs a bunch of little things,âÄù Weber said. âÄúYou look back on it, [itâÄôs] going to be five or six plays that are momentum changers. ItâÄôs just too bad because itâÄôs only going to get harder and harder as the season goes on where thereâÄôs going to be less and less opportunities that we get to capitalize on.âÄù