Kucek, Gophers try to forgive and forget punter’s faux pas

David McCoy

Believe it or not, Justin Kucek still has friends.

The freshman punter for Minnesota’s football team dropped the snap and kicked the ball into the forearms of Wisconsin’s Jonathan Casillas, allowing the Badgers to recover the ball in the end zone for the winning touchdown, completing a stunning comeback to win Saturday’s game 38-34.

But despite his miscue, Gophers coach Glen Mason said Kucek’s teammates would rally around him.

“What can you say?” Mason said after Saturday’s game. “(It doesn’t) matter what you say, for at least the short term. But you know he’s a good kid; he’s a tough kid; he’ll bounce back. I guarantee our players will lift him up. We believe we win together and we lose together.”

Kucek still seemed shell shocked while taking to the media after the game.

He said he didn’t think about his options, such as taking a safety after dropping the punt, but just instinctively reacted.

His teammates didn’t fault him for his rookie mistake.

“(They were) real supportive,” Kucek said. “They played real hard out there and played a real good game. It’s just one of those things.”

While addressing the media, Kucek was reminded that Minnesota had many opportunities to preserve the game before his fateful punt. But Kucek’s response was still hard on himself.

“Yeah, well, I feel bad about it because I have one part and I want to get it done the right way,” Kucek said.

Kucek’s teammates were not critical of their rookie punter; instead choosing to deflect criticism on the team’s other mistakes, which included a pair of penalties that negated touchdowns and the defense’s inability to stop the Badgers late in the game.

The Gophers (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) start practice again Friday with an extra week thanks to a bye. That means extra time not only to mull over the loss, but to figure out how to prevent another against No. 14 Ohio State on Oct. 29 at the Metrodome.

“It’s not (Kucek’s) fault,” running back Laurence Maroney said. “Things happen and you can’t stop things from happening that (already) did. We just have to forget about it and focus on getting ready for Ohio State.”

Women’s hoopster to miss entire first season

Minnesota women’s basketball freshman Ashley Ellis-Milan will miss the entire 2005-06 season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee Saturday in the Gophers’ season-opening practice.

The post player will undergo surgery in the upcoming weeks.