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Chicago's Matt Spaeth, a former Gophers and St. Michael-Albertville star, celebrated his 13-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Hartman: Spaeth helps Bears get back to winning

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • November 25, 2012 - 11:35 PM

Matt Spaeth might have ended any chance the Vikings had of winning Sunday when, after a 14-play, 80-yard Bears touchdown drive and a subsequent interception by Chris Conte, the former Gophers tight end made a sensational 13-yard touchdown catch.

Spaeth's score -- his first touchdown catch of the year and the eighth of his six-year NFL career -- made it 25-3 and put the game away.

"It was just kind of a play-action naked-boot and [quarterback] Jay [Cutler] rolled out to his left and I was running for the corner of the end zone," Spaeth said on the phone after the game. [The Vikings] had it covered pretty good, but Jay just made a perfect throw."

What a difference a week made for the Bears, who last Monday night lost 32-7 to San Francisco, the same team the Vikings beat 24-13 earlier this year. Against the 49ers, Chicago let quarterback Jason Campbell get sacked six times and gained only 143 yards, while giving up 343.

Spaeth said he and his teammates couldn't understand how that could happen after they had won six games in a row before losing to Houston the week before -- and couldn't understand how they could then beat the Vikings so handily six days later.

"I wish I knew, we'd play that way every week," said Spaeth, who is from St. Michael. "We'd had a rough couple weeks, and we knew this was a big game for us. We knew we had to right the ship. We had extra incentive because it was a division game and a rival game. We just knew we had to win.

"We knew it was a big game for us and we couldn't play like last week, that's for sure. It is definitely big. It's always kind of extra incentive for me to play well because it's against the Vikings and it's where I grew up and went to school and all that stuff.

"It's tough to say must-win, but we knew it was a big game, a rival game, a division game, and we had lost the last two."

A porous Chicago offensive line had given up a total of 34 sacks this year, including the six last week. Spaeth was asked how the Bears limited what had been a pretty effective Vikings pass rush to one sack.

"We just paid a lot more attention to where Jared [Allen] was at and some different guys, and we did some things to help out our offensive line," he said. "We just did a lot of quick chip stuff to kind of just not allow them to rush off the edge. Nothing too big, but just giving that tackle a little bit of help makes a big difference."

Spaeth looks for a much tougher game with the Vikings at the Metrodome on Dec. 9.

"They're a team that plays a lot better at home and plays a lot better in that dome with all the crowd noise," he said. "Home-field advantage in the NFL is big, and it's going to be a tough game up there."

Kill back to work

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, who suffered a seizure at halftime Saturday vs. Michigan State and stayed in the locker room the rest of the game, is expected to be back in his office Monday.

The word is that Kill spent the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday home resting, and barring any unforeseen trouble he will be back to his normal routine.

Kill didn't attend the team banquet that was held Sunday night.

Mbakwe in form

The Gophers men's basketball team wound up beating two good teams over the weekend in the Bahamas in Memphis and Stanford, while losing to No. 5 Duke. Coach Tubby Smith said one of the reasons for the success was that Trevor Mbakwe has started to reach the form he had before his serious knee injury took him out last year.

"He is getting stronger, his endurance and stamina," Smith said. "He had a heck of a game [against Stanford], and we needed that type of performance out of him on the boards. Good play all around."

Smith was impressed with the performance of his team against strong competition. The Battle 4 Atlantis was generally regarded as the best of all the preseason basketball tournaments this year.

"We know the capability of this team, and we just need to stay united and keep playing well," Smith said.

Smith ran out of superlatives when it came to describing Andre Hollins, who scored 41 points against his hometown Memphis team Friday.

"He's a solid player because he's got that ability," Smith said of Hollins. "He's a scoring point guard. He's really became a great leader for us. ...

"I think I've only had one other player that I've coached, Tayshaun Prince had 41 points in a game for [Kentucky] in the [2002] NCAA tournament against Tulsa. But I was very impressed with Andre and the way he's playing. When you put the ball in his hands usually good things are going to happen."

Saturday's game had an odd ending, as Stanford fouled Hollins at halfcourt with 0.4 seconds on the clock and the score tied.

"We were fortunate to get that call at the end, but certainly the guy almost wiped Andre Hollins out," Smith said. "I was glad he got the ball off in time. He was dribbling and he was looking over at the bench while he was dribbling and I was saying, 'Shoot it, man! Shoot it.' "

Smith said the Gophers expect a big test when they visit Florida State on Tuesday. The Seminoles won the ACC tournament last season. This season, they are 4-1 after opening with a home loss to South Alabama.

"They have so much talent and so much depth, they're starting 6-8 and 7 feet and they come off the bench with 7-3, 6-8, they're huge too," Smith said. "This tournament was one of the toughest tournaments I've ever coached in, and then we go to Florida State and Tallahassee, that's about as tough a run as you're going to see in college basketball that we're having right now."

Tough times

It's been a tough few months for two of the great athletes developed in this area, who not only played professionally but also served as coaches and general managers, in Lou Nanne and now Kevin McHale.

Nanne lost his son Michael to brain cancer in September, and Saturday, McHale lost his 23-year-old daughter, Sasha, to complications from lupus.

While Kevin and his wife, Lynn, were living in Houston, where Kevin was coaching the Rockets, Sasha was living here and became ill and had been confined to the University of Minnesota Hospital.

I've been acquainted with Kevin, Lynn and all the McHale children for a long, long time, and Sasha, who was an outstanding athlete on a state championship-winning Totino-Grace girls' basketball team, was something special. This is such a tough loss for one great family.

The many, many friends of the McHale family are surely saying prayers and sending their thoughts out to them.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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