Kickers decide Big Ten bowl fates

by Michael Dougherty

Peruse the sidelines of any bowl-bound Big Ten team and look for the kicker. He’s not that hard to find. He’s usually the guy with the smallest shoulders who has to carry the largest load.
In five of the Big Ten’s seven bowl games, the kickers were incredibly instrumental in the outcome of the games. With the exception of Penn State’s 24-0 thumping of Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl and Illinois’ 63-21 rout of Virginia in the Bowl, the little guys with the clean jerseys turned the games into nail-biters.

Sun Bowl, Dec. 31
Gophers freshman kicker Dan Nystrom started things off by missing an extra point in his team’s 24-20 loss to Oregon.
If Nystrom had made that extra point, Minnesota would’ve been playing for a field goal instead of a touchdown in the final minutes of the game. There’s no telling what could have transpired if the last-minute strategy was different, but the missed kick did change the landscape of the game.

Outback Bowl, Jan. 1
Purdue jumped out to a 13-0 lead against Georgia in Tampa, but Boilermakers kicker Travis Dorsch missed the extra point. It was his first miss of the season after going 38-for-38.
Coach Joe Tiller fell into the trap of trying to make up for the missed point by going for two-point conversions on the Boilermakers’ next two scores, but both attempts were unsuccessful.
Dorsch missed two field goals in regulation and the Bulldogs scored 25 unanswered point to force overtime. Dorsch missed another in the extra session, ending Purdue’s shot at bowl glory.
“It’s going to be a long off-season,” Dorsch told reporters after the game. “I’ll be watching a lot of tape and rededicating myself.”

Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1
Michigan State and Florida played a seesaw game that the Spartans ultimately won 37-34.
Michigan State kicker Paul Edinger experienced the highs and lows that most guys in his position have to endure. He missed a 45-yarder with less than two minutes left, which would have given the Spartans a 37-34 lead.
But Edinger redeemed himself when he nailed a 39-yarder as the clock ran out, giving the Spartans the win and a final ranking of seventh.
Rose Bowl, Jan. 1
In this game it was a Big Ten opponent that struggled with its kicking game. Stanford went up 3-0 early when kicker Mike Biselli split the uprights from 28 yards out.
Later in the first quarter, Stanford long snapper Jon Sande injured his ankle and was forced out of the game. Backup Anthony Gabriel replaced him and promptly bungled an extra-point snap after a touchdown that left the score at 9-3.
Gabriel struck again when Biselli lined up for a short field goal with Wisconsin up 10-9. Gabriel’s snap bounced back to the holder and the field goal attempt was no good. Wisconsin ended up winning 17-9.

Orange Bowl, Jan. 1
The coup de grace of kicking mishaps came on prime time on New Year’s Day. Michigan was tied with Alabama 28-28 when kicker Hayden Epstein came in to attempt a 36-yard field goal on the last play of the game.
Epstein’s kick was blocked and the two teams were headed to overtime. Michigan scored right away to jump ahead 35-28, and Alabama answered during its overtime possession with a 21-yard touchdown pass.
That brought Alabama kicker Ryan Pfluger in to tie the game, but Pfluger’s extra point went wide right, handing Michigan the game.
“Everyone is going to blame me; I missed the last kick,” Pfluger said. “It came down to the extra point and I should have made it, but it’s a team game. Everyone could have done something to make it better.”

Michael Dougherty covers football and men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]