Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman had his most dominant performance of the season in Saturday’s 29-12 victory over Western Illinois.
Hageman barreled through the line to block an extra point after Western Illinois had taken a 12-7 lead in the third quarter. That play mirrored the one Hageman made in the season opener against UNLV, when his blocked field goal led to a 51-yard touchdown return by Martez Shabazz.
Hageman finished Saturday with six tackles, including two for loss. He notched his first sack of the season, and it was a memorable one.
With the Gophers leading 22-12 in the fourth quarter, Western Illinois faced third-and-10 from its 36-yard line. Hageman, who was constantly being double-teamed, sped past two Leathernecks linemen and lost his helmet, but still wrestled quarterback Trenton Norvell to the ground.
How do you make a play like that without a helmet?
“You’ve got to be mentally tough, man,” Hageman said. “There’s no recipe for that. I don’t really know how to answer that. The goal is getting to the quarterback. I don’t care if there are one, two, three people in front of me, I’m going to do my best job to accomplish that.”
Defensive end Theiren Cockran had the Gophers’ other two sacks.
“At the end of the game, the defensive line did a great job of collapsing the pocket,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “You give up 68 yards rushing, and only 6 in the second half, a lot of that has to do with the big guys inside. So [Hageman] continues to get better.”
Williams shines again
Tight end Maxx Williams led the Gophers with 52 receiving yards, which came on two highlight-reel catches.
Mitch Leidner hit Williams on a seam pass in the second quarter, and the redshirt freshman punctuated it by knocking over safety David McDaniel for a 33-yard gain. In the fourth quarter, Williams made a leaping grab near the sidelines, with a defender draped all over him.
Williams didn’t think the offense missed a step after Philip Nelson went down because of a hamstring injury.
“I think Mitch is a great quarterback, and he was ready to go,” Williams said.
• Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood missed his second consecutive game because of a sprained ankle, but he was in uniform and moved around well during warmups, a sign he could return for next week’s game against San Jose State.
• Safety Cedric Thompson also dressed but did not play after suffering an unspecified injury in Tuesday’s practice. Damarius Travis got the start in Thompson’s place. Claeys said he believes Thompson will play next week.
• The Gophers pulled a potential redshirt from freshman cornerback Jalen Myrick, who played on special teams. Claeys said Myrick has practiced some at running back, too.
• Redshirt freshman receiver Jamel Harbison, who sat the first two games because of a disciplinary issue, did not catch a pass, but he had his first game action since he suffered a knee injury in last year’s season opener.
• Ben Lauer, a redshirt freshman from Wayzata High School, replaced starting left tackle Marek Lenkiewicz on the Gophers’ second series and continued working with the first unit.