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Gophers catastrophically collapse late, lose 37-34 in overtime to Northwestern

Minnesota held a 31-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter before getting outscored 27-3 by the game’s end.
Image by Jack Rodgers
Head coach P.J. Fleck celebrates on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018 at Huntington Bank Stadium. The Gophers’ loss against Northwestern weekend leaves no clear roadmap for where the team goes next.

Minnesota football failed to answer Northwestern’s 21-point run in the fourth quarter, leading to a 37-34 overtime loss on Saturday. The team was looking to rebound after a tough loss at North Carolina the previous week.

Northwestern fans began walking out of Ryan Field heading into the final quarter, leaving both the student section and half the stands almost empty. However, the Gophers found a way to hand the Wildcats a lifeline by opting to kick a field goal rather than going for a walk-off touchdown.

During the post-game press conference, Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck said the accountability for the loss starts with him.

“You always look at yourself first as a head coach, what could you have done differently, what could you have done better,” Fleck said. “Completely unacceptable in the fourth quarter, period. They went out there and got it done, we didn’t.”

Running back Darius Taylor, a bright spot for the Gophers, picked up his second straight Big Ten Freshman of the Week. The feat had not been accomplished at the University of Minnesota since Shannon Brooks in 2015.

After both team’s first drives stalled out, the Wildcats took over at their 11-yard line. On third-and-20, Northwestern threw a screen pass to receiver A.J. Henning, whose fumble was recovered by Gophers defensive lineman Kyler Baugh.

A play later, quaterback Athan Kaliakmanis found reciever Le’Meke Brockington over the middle of the field for a touchdown to make it 7-0 Minnesota. The touchdown was Minnesota’s first points scored in the first quarter all season.

Both teams punted after failing to gain any movement on their next drives. Northwestern ran the ball five straight times for 26 yards on their fourth drive of the game, closing out the first quarter 7-0 Minnesota.

The Gophers stopped the Wildcats on third-and-six to force a punt to start the second quarter. Taylor opened the proceeding offensive drive with back-to-back carries that he took for 14 yards.

Kaliakmanis then moved the Gophers near the red zone after receiver Corey Crooms Jr. caught his pass one-handed for a 27-yard gain. Taylor followed the play up with three straight rushes for 21 yards. Minnesota stayed on the ground and gave the ball to Taylor once more for the score, making it 14-0 Gophers.

Minnesota continued to put their faith in Taylor. On their next offensive drive, the Gophers were stuck on third down with five yards to the first down marker. Taylor took the rock and broke off 25 yards. A play later, Kaliakmanis hit a wide-open receiver Daniel Jackson in the back of the endzone to put Minnesota up three scores.

Northwestern responded quickly. With 2:06 left in the first half, quarterback Ben Bryant hit receiver Bryce Kirtz for an 80-yard touchdown, closing the gap by seven.

Minnesota found themselves in a tough third-and-15 situation the next drive. Kaliakmanis dropped back and couldn’t find an open target. He tucked the ball in and sprinted toward the marker. He hurdled a defender along the way but was planted into the ground in mid-air. The Gophers quarterback popped back up short of the first and kicker Dragan Kesich capped off the possession with a career-long 50-yard field goal.

Taylor had 137 yards rushing on 18 carries at halftime, his third straight game with over 133 yards rushing. Kaliakmanis’s performance was day-and-night compared to last week, finishing the half perfect in his attempts (8-8), with 107 total yards and two touchdowns.

Kaliakmanis carried his momentum into the third quarter, throwing to Jackson’s corner route for a 16-yard gain to start the second half. The drive stalled shortly after and the Gophers would punt three plays later.

The game slowed down for several possessions. The Wildcats tacked on a field goal during the exchange. The pace didn’t pick up until Taylor ran through Northwestern linebacker Bryce Gallagher, breaking free for a 41-yard touchdown run to close out the third quarter.

The 21-point lead would be the Gophers’ largest lead for the remainder of the game.

A mixture of good offense and a personal foul committed by Gophers safety Jack Henderson put Northwestern in the red zone. Wildcat running back Cam Porter walked in for their first rushing touchdown of the game, pushing the score to 31-17.

Northwestern got the ball back down two possessions after a three-and-out by the Gophers. Three straight passes by Bryant to Kirtz followed and eventually cut the lead by seven points. The three-play 69-yard drive took 39 seconds off the clock.

Kirtz recorded 10 receptions for 215 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota.

Northwestern’s star wide receiver said postgame that Saturday was a culmination of the work he put in leading up to this season.

“I mean it definitely meant a lot,” Kirtz said. “I put in a lot of work, you know, I’ve had four knee surgeries over the past four years. So, tonight really, you know, just brought it all to light and really just showed me why all that hard work and all that time put in the training room, on the field, taking extra reps and why it all paid off.”

The touchdown was followed by two punts by Minnesota and one by Northwestern. On Minnesota’s third punt, Crawford placed it perfectly inside the 20. The ball continued to roll until it was stopped by Quentin Redding in the endzone, turning the Wildcat’s potential start at the one-yard line into a touchback.

The Gophers’ defense began to crumble, allowing the Wildcats to drive 80 yards and score a game-tying touchdown with just two seconds left, sending the game to overtime.

On Minnesota’s first and last offensive possession in overtime, Crooms hung onto a first-down ball from Kaliakmanis after taking a big hit from a Wildcat defender. Minnesota failed to score and settled for three points, giving Northwestern a chance to win.

Taylor was unable to be on the field for the final drive as he was pulled from the game due to an injury.

On Northwestern’s first play, Bryant found his tight end, Charlie Mangieri, wide open, dropped in the pass, and Mangieri walked into the endzone for the win. Bryant totaled 396 yards passing and four touchdown passes on 67% completion rate.

The Gophers were outdone on third down in back-to-back weeks, converting 4/14 compared to the Wildcats’ 8/18. Northwestern also outgained Minnesota in yards through the second half (315 to 188).

On the opposing end, it was an incredible night for newly appointed Northwestern head coach David Braun. Following the game in a press conference, Braun said he was proud of his team and their fight.

“I think what we saw tonight is a direct reflection of what this group is all about and the things that those of us are with this group day in and day out get a chance to see,” Braun said. “We haven’t had an opportunity to see that come out in full force on gameday and we saw it tonight.”

The Gophers are now 2-2 on the season as they head home to face University of Louisiana Lafayette, who are 3-1 after beating the University of Buffalo 45-38.

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