Barely! Gophers steal a win

Sophomore running back Duane Bennet dives through a pack of players into the endzone during the fourth quarter Saturday, scoring the game winning touchdown with just 22 seconds left on the game clock.

Steve Maturen

Sophomore running back Duane Bennet dives through a pack of players into the endzone during the fourth quarter Saturday, scoring the game winning touchdown with just 22 seconds left on the game clock.

Gophers quarterback Adam Weber didnâÄôt have to wait long to prove whether he had matured since last season. Taking the ball with five minutes, 15 seconds left and a three-point deficit, Weber completed five-straight passes and ran for seven yards before Duane Bennett ran in a touchdown from a yard out, giving the Gophers a 31-27 win over Northern Illinois Saturday . âÄúGreat quarterbacks take teams down the field with little or no time on the clock to win football games, and thatâÄôs what Adam Weber did,âÄù Gophers coach Tim Brewster said . âÄúHe really grew up today.âÄù Weber took the Gophers from their own 26-yard line to the HuskiesâÄô 12-yard line in those five passes, including back-to-back connections with tight end Nathan Tow-Arnett for 17 and 23 yards . It was a drive Weber said he couldnâÄôt have orchestrated as a freshman last season. âÄúI honestly donâÄôt think so,âÄù Weber said, who finished 24-for-37 for 298 yards. âÄúThere were a couple reads where last season I probably wouldâÄôve been quick to throw the ball, but tonight I just relaxed and let the play develop.âÄù Not that it was easy from there. Three plays later the Gophers faced fourth-and-one with 38 seconds left, electing to go for a first down rather than kick a tying field goal . It was reminiscent of last season when Brewster elected to go for a two-point conversion against Northwestern rather than kick an extra point to force a second overtime. At that game Weber threw an incomplete pass and the Gophers lost 49-48 . This time around, Bennet demanded the ball and plowed two yards for the first down and, a play later, another yard for the touchdown . âÄúDuane wanted the football in crunch time,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúHe got in my face and said, âÄòCoach Brew, I want the football.âÄô When a kid comes to you with that kind of mindset, you feel good about it.âÄù Bennet rushed for 98 yards on 18 carries, including a 61-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. In his first year as a starter, he was pleased that Brewster trusted him to carry the ball at the end of the game. âÄúIt means a lot,âÄù Bennet said. âÄúIt means theyâÄôve seen the growth and development through me through fall camp. It shows me that I have the trust of the coaches and the team to come through in the clutch.âÄù Junior receiver Eric Decker , whom Brewster predicted would be one of the top wide outs in the country this year , caught four passes in the gameâÄôs first seven plays and finished with 10 catches for 89 yards . On Northern IllinoisâÄô final drive âÄî where they drove to the 30-yard line and had a pair of shots at the end zone âÄî Decker was even put in on defense, where he knocked down the gameâÄôs final pass . âÄúHeâÄôs a pretty good center fielder, isnâÄôt he?âÄù Brewster said, referring to DeckerâÄôs career as a baseball player, where he started in center field for the Gophers and was even drafted in June . âÄúHeâÄôs really one of the better wide receivers in America.âÄù The Minnesota defense, the worst in the nation in 2007 , was hot and cold. They forced four three-and-outs but gave up 398 yards to a Huskies team that was 2-10 last season and led by freshman quarterback Chandler Harnish . Sophomore cornerback Ryan Collado was beaten on a pair of touchdown passes, of 91 and 52 yards, both caught by Nathan Palmer . Marcus Sherels , making his first start in the secondary after spending his freshman and sophomore seasons as a backup wide receiver, was the only defensive back to record more than one pass breakup . The former walk-on and younger brother of standout linebacker Mike Sherels finished with three breakups, four tackles and took several punt returns . âÄúOn the defensive side of the ball, now I get to attack people instead of getting hit,âÄù Marcus Sherels said. âÄúIt was definitely different for me.âÄù It was different for the rest of the team, too, after going winless since Sept. 1, 2007 and finishing 1-11 last year . âÄúSometimes you can take wins for granted,âÄù Weber said. âÄúAfter going through last season, you learn that no matter how the game looks or who youâÄôre playing, if you come away with the win and sing the rouser in the locker room, you can be happy.âÄù