Gophers can’t trap Bears

Minnesota comes up short against No. 8 California.

Gophers can’t trap Bears

Marco LaNave

Going into the fourth quarter against California on Saturday, the Gophers looked poised for an upset of a top-10 team. Minnesota had rallied from a 14-point deficit against No. 8 California and had not allowed a first down in three second-half Bears possessions. Only the Gophers seemed unsurprised by the scenario. âÄúGoing into that fourth quarter, we had the momentum; I felt like we had it,âÄù junior quarterback Adam Weber said. âÄúI thought we had something special.âÄù In the end, though, they could not close the deal. An apparent third-down stop that was negated by a penalty and critical fourth-quarter interceptions gave the Bears plenty of opportunity to break free for a 35-21 victory at TCF Bank Stadium . âÄúIâÄôm really disappointed that we didnâÄôt win the football game because we had a great chance to beat the No. 8-ranked team in the country today, and we didnâÄôt get it done,âÄù Gophers head coach Tim Brewster said. All of the Gophers felt it was a missed opportunity. âÄúWe hung in there; we had chances to win the football game,âÄù senior linebacker Lee Campbell said. âÄúWeâÄôve got to learn how to finish.âÄù The second-half defense was solid until a third-and-11 play at the California 27-yard line. The Gophers appeared to sack Bears junior quarterback Kevin Riley , but the play was dead because of a false start penalty on California. With another chance on third and 16, Riley completed a 35-yard pass to junior wide receiver Jeremy Ross for a first down at the Minnesota 43. âÄúWeâÄôve got to find a way to make the play in that situation,âÄù Brewster said. With a crack finally opening in the door, California seized its opportunity. Later in the drive, Riley found Ross again for a 31-yard completion to the Minnesota 1-yard line, setting up the fourth rushing touchdown for Bears junior running back Jahvid Best . The Gophers opportunity to answer was cut short on the first play of the ensuing drive, as Weber threw an interception to Bears junior linebacker Mike Mohamed with 7:01 to play. âÄúThat play will probably haunt me for the rest of the season, probably the rest of my life,âÄù said Weber, who was 21 of 32 for 226 passing yards, but had three fourth-quarter interceptions. âÄúThat one hurts because that puts our defense in a tough spot, and it just kind of kills all the momentum we had.âÄù The Bears made it hurt by taking four minutes off the clock with a 44-yard drive, and Best added another 2-yard touchdown run, capping a five-touchdown performance. By the time Weber was intercepted by California redshirt freshman cornerback Josh Hill , most of the 50,805 patrons of TCF Bank Stadium had turned toward the exits. Early in the first quarter however, the chances seemed poor that the Gophers faithful would stick around so close to the end. On the gameâÄôs opening drive, the Bears moved effortlessly with Best completing an 80-yard drive by slashing through a hole and sprinting for a 33-yard touchdown. Following a three and out by Minnesota, California needed just three plays to move from its 14-yard line to the end zone, thanks to a 25-yard run by Best, a 59-yard pass from Riley to Bears senior wide receiver Verran Tucker and a 2-yard scoring plunge by Best. With less than eight minutes off the clock, the Gophers looked every bit as overmatched as the 14-0 score indicated. MinnesotaâÄôs offense did little to prove otherwise until late in the first quarter, when the Gophers moved from their 46-yard line to the California 26 to close the period. On the first play of the second quarter, Weber rolled to his right and threw to senior wide receiver Eric Decker near the goal line. Decker caught the ball and fell toward the end zone, holding onto the ball as he was drilled by Bears sophomore safety Sean Cattouse. A review confirmed the touchdown to make it 14-7. Although California restored its two-touchdown lead when Best exploded through a hole for a 27-yard touchdown with 3:47 remaining in the second quarter, the Gophers were given great field position at the California 29-yard line 1:11 before the half. Weber completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Decker on the second play of the drive, drawing the Gophers to within 21-14 at halftime. Coming out of the locker room down by just a touchdown, the Gophers looked stronger than they had all day, but neither team did much until MinnesotaâÄôs third drive of the second half. Weber completed four consecutive passes to lead the Gophers to the Bears 7-yard line. From there, Minnesota whipped out its best trick of the day. Decker took a pitch from Weber and threw to freshman backup quarterback MarQueis Gray , who pulled down the pass and placed one foot in the end zone to tie the game, 21-21, with 0:29 remaining in the third quarter. The defense forced a third consecutive three-and-out series by California, but that was the end of the Gophers luck. With a chance to take the lead for the first time, the Gophers began a drive at their own 2-yard line but had to punt from their 26. Supported by a roaring crowd, the Gophers looked poised for another defensive stop, but California caught the one break it needed on the nullified third-down sack. The subsequent 35-yard completion was the first in a sequence of deflating moments for the Gophers and their fans. âÄúThat long third down, I thought we had it; I thought we were going to get great field position for the offense, and, you know, youâÄôve got to take advantage in those types of situations,âÄù Campbell said. While there was plenty of disappointment in the result, it meant that the Gophers expect to compete with elite teams as they begin their conference schedule. âÄúWe know that we want to be a great Big Ten team,âÄù Weber said. âÄúPlaying in this game, in this situation, the situations we went up against, I feel that we gained a lot of confidence and that will carry over into the Big Ten conference.âÄù âÄúYouâÄôve got to take the positives out of this game,âÄù Decker said. âÄúCalâÄôs a great team. I mean, obviously, theyâÄôre ranked No. 8 for a reason, and, you know, we played with them all the way through.âÄù