Last-second pass stuns Gophers

Moments after Northwestern’s 41-35 last-second win over Minnesota on Saturday, the Wildcats’ Gilles Lezi and the Gophers’ Karon Riley both dropped like bowling pins to the Metrodome floor.
Lezi kicked, squirmed and pounded his fists and feet against the turf in celebration.
Riley lay still — face down — in a disgusted, stunned silence.
Lezi was reveling in Northwestern’s improbable Hail Mary completion with no time left on the clock, giving his team the come from behind win.
Riley was sulking after a loss in which he and the Gophers defense surrendered 27 unanswered second half points and got burned on a Hail Mary on the final play.
Minnesota coach Glen Mason fully understood Lezi’s joyful mood, but felt more like Riley.
“I don’t like to lose,” Mason said. “But sometimes losing is worse than others. You feel like your guts have been ripped out.”
The loss wasn’t nearly as graphic as it might have felt for the Gophers (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten). In fact, if you’re a Northwestern fan, or a football fan at all for that matter, it was quite pretty.
With three seconds left in the fourth quarter, Northwestern quarterback Zak Kustok rolled out and threw a 45-yard bomb up for grabs.
With four Gophers waiting in the end zone, it was the Wildcats Kunle Patrick who leaped highest. The freshman calmly tipped the ball to teammate Sam Simmons, who was patiently waiting, wide open, a few yards away.
Simmons hauled the ball in for the game-winning score. Then, as he took off on a victory sprint across the field, those on the Minnesota sidelines began contemplating what went wrong.
“You got to bat the ball down,” Minnesota defensive coordinator David Gibbs said. “It looked like we had four or five guys there, but nobody made the play.”
The play capped off a second half in which the Wildcats (6-2, 4-1) rebounded from a 35-14 deficit and scored four straight touchdowns against a seemingly out-of-gas Gophers defense.
Perhaps finally worn down from Northwestern’s no-huddle offense, the Gophers defense was overrun by Kustok and the Wildcats.
After being held to just 47 yards passing and -6 rushing in the first half, Kustok came alive in the second, throwing for 162 yards and running for another 96 in the final 30 minutes.
But Kustok wasn’t alone on the attack. Northwestern running back Damien Anderson piled up 230 yards rushing on the day — 149 in the first half — and had a pair of touchdown.
Anderson became the second player in as many weeks to wrack up more than 200 yards on the ground against the Gophers. Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El ran for 210 in last week’s Hoosiers win.
While Indiana featured the option, Northwestern’s claim to fame was their draw play. Whether giving the ball to Anderson on a delayed handoff, or keeping it for himself, Kustok was able to keep the Gophers defense off balance all game.
The Wildcats put up 543 yards of total yards against Minnesota, good for 5.6 yards a play.
Even more impressive was the stat showing Northwestern was 4 for 4 on fourth down conversions in the final quarter. Three of those conversions led to touchdowns, including the game winner.
“They have a good scheme on offense,” Gophers defensive tackle John Schlecht said. “But there is no excuse, we should have stopped it.”
While the Gophers couldn’t stop Kustok and company in the second half, Northwestern’s defense was able to control Minnesota’s attack.
The Gophers offense put 28 first-half points on the board, thanks to 262 yards of total offense from a quarterback rotation featuring Travis Cole and Asad Abdul-Khaliq.
But after the intermission, Minnesota was held to just one touchdown on 174 total yards. More importantly, except for their scoring drive, the Gophers couldn’t put together more than two first downs on a single drive.
“We made a lot of things happen,” Mason said. “But we didn’t make the right things happen at the right time coming down the wire.”
For the second week Minnesota failed to win its sixth game of the season — the elusive win guaranteeing the Gophers of a winning season and the chance for a bowl game.
But after the tough loss to Northwestern, the Gophers thoughts were on anything but a trip to a bowl.
They were still on the heartbreaking Hail Mary.
“It’s tough,” Schlecht said. “When you play a hard game like that and have it come down to the last play, a lucky catch, that hurts.”
Added running back Tellis Redmon: “I’d rather get blown out than lose off of a tipped ball in the end zone on the last second.”

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]