Big risk, but no reward

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 14, 2007 - 1:30 AM

A failed two-point gamble told the nuts-and-bolts story on the scoreboard, but not lost on Gophers players was a blown 21-point lead.

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Running back Jay Thomas led Gophers in rushing Saturday.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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EVANSTON, ILL. - Amid the disappointment and shock from yet another second-half meltdown Saturday, Gophers football coach Tim Brewster did not second-guess himself over a gutsy call.

Given the exact same scenario, Brewster insisted he would go for a two-point conversion again.

"I would do it again tonight, tomorrow and the next day," he said.

The game never should have reached that critical moment, but Brewster's decision to try for two points and the victory in the second overtime failed, thus completing a maddening collapse in a 49-48 loss to Northwestern before an announced crowd of 23,314 at Ryan Field.

On the game-deciding play, Adam Weber rolled right, couldn't find an open receiver and was hit as he attempted to throw to Eric Decker in the end zone.

The ball fell to the ground, Northwestern stormed the field in celebration and the Gophers were left to pick up the pieces after blowing a 21-point lead.

"It's heartbreaking," senior center Tony Brinkhaus said. "It looked like we were going to get one there. We just weren't able to put them away."

Said Brewster, who turned 47 Saturday: "This is hard. It's hard to think about where to start. When you pour your heart and soul into something and come up short at the end of it, I can't even tell you how bad it hurts."

The Gophers (1-6, 0-4 Big Ten) suffered their fifth consecutive loss despite leading 35-14 with 6 minutes, 18 seconds left in the third quarter. The Wildcats appeared so overmatched defensively at that point that the game looked like it might turn into a pick-the-score rout.

But Northwestern turned two Weber interceptions into touchdowns, the Gophers made critical mistakes on offense and the Wildcats went 73 yards in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime.

C.J. Bachér found Eric Peterman for a 4-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with 8 seconds remaining, sending the game to overtime.

Both teams scored touchdowns in the first session. Northwestern scored on a 6-yard run by Brandon Roberson in the second overtime. The Gophers scored on Weber's 3-yard run, setting up the two-point attempt.

Brewster signaled for two immediately after Weber's touchdown. He said he told his players before the overtime session that he would make that call if they scored.

"Our football team deserved to win," Brewster said. "That's why I went for two. I felt 100 percent that we would get the two. We had a good play called. Northwestern did a nice job defending the play."

Brewster's players said it was the right decision.

"The way the game had gone and the way the season has gone for us I think it was definitely the right decision," Brinkhaus said.

Said Weber: "No matter how you look at it, it's the right call to make. It's a good play. We just didn't execute. It's one of things where they made a play and we didn't execute. Live and die, I guess."

The game featured the two worst defenses in the Big Ten, and it showed. The Gophers finished with 580 total yards while Northwestern had 589. They combined for 169 plays.

Weber completed 25 of 38 passes for 341 yards and five touchdowns ,with two interceptions. He also rushed for 89 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries.

His 430 total yards and five touchdown passes both ranked second in school history.

Senior Ernie Wheelwright had the best game of his career, with seven catches for 116 yards and three touchdowns. Jay Thomas rushed for 100 yards on 22 carries.

Bachér did most of the heavy lifting for Northwestern (4-3, 2-2). He completed 41 of 58 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns, including three after halftime.

The Gophers scored touchdowns on five consecutive possessions that bridged the two halves to take their 21-point lead. They rolled up 380 yards on 32 plays in that span.

But it still wasn't enough.

"I don't know what happened in the second half," defensive tackle Eric Small said. "They came back, and we couldn't get the couple of stops that we needed. We had opportunities to end the game and didn't."

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