Two-Point Overtime Conversion Sinks Gophers in Brewster Debut
Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Bowling Green Falcons of the Mid-America Conference, a two-touchdown underdog to Minnesota in the 2007 season opener, connected on a two-point conversion in overtime to upset the Gophers 32-31 and spoil the debut of head coach Tim Brewster.

Brewster, from his initial introduction last January, showed he could match the enthusiasm and optimism of former Gophers coach Jim Wacker. And through the first half of his initial game, his team performed about as well as the Minnesota squads 1990s under Wacker, who fashioned a 16-39 record between 1992 and 1996.

The Gophers had the advantage of more returning lettermen and starters against a still inexperienced Bowling Green team that had played 13 true freshmen in 2006. Both teams had new quarterbacks, redshirt freshman Adam Weber for Minnesota and sophomore Tyler Sheehan for Bowling Green, which substituted junior Anthony Turner twice in the first half for his running, not his passing. The Gophers also featured a young secondary as freshmen free-safety Curtis Thomas and right cornerback Ryan Collado joined seniors Dominique Barber and Jamal Harris.

The Falcons took advantage of the lack of pressure from the Gophers three-man defensive front to pick apart an inexperienced secondary and cruise to a 21-0 halftime lead. Bowling Green came out with a no-huddle offense, often with no backs, and Sheehan completed seven of seven passes as the Falcons took only four plays to score touchdowns on each of their first two drives. The first was culminated by a 53-yard touchdown pass to running back Eric Ransom, who beat freshman free safety Curtis Thomas; the second was capped by a flea-flicker with receiver Corey Partridge taking the ball from Sheehan and then throwing to a wide-open Sheehan for a 24-yard touchdown. Fewer than seven minutes into the Brewster era, the Gophers were down 14-0.

On its three ensuing drives, Bowling Green was stopped more by itself, plagued by penalties and dropped passes, than by the Minnesota defense. Meanwhile, the Gophers’ offense either stalled or turned the ball over. The biggest play of the half for Minnesota came on a 58-yard run by Amir Pinnix to the Bowling Green 14. However, on the next play Weber fumbled the snap with Falcons linebacker Erique “Bull” Dozier recovering it.

Bowling Green added another touchdown late in the second quarter as Thompson, who had come in and run for two first downs on an earlier series, re-entered and completed a 66-yard drive with a seven-yard run up the middle.

Brewster said he challenged his team at halftime, particularly Weber, whom he said was “tentative” in the first half. “I challenged him to throw with more poise and confidence.” Weber was 6-for-11 in passing in the second half (after a 9-for-20 first half), and Pinnix accumulated 94 of his game-high 168 rushing yards on 22 carries in the second half.

The Gophers finally put it together on their second possession of the third quarter. Weber was part of the two biggest gains on the 75-yard drive. One play after misfiring with a pass behind an open Eric Decker in the middle of the field, he connected with a well-placed sideline pass to Decker for a 21-yard gain. After a penalty against Minnesota for an illegal substitution, Weber ran for 26 yards to the BG 32. Pinnix took the ball four of the next five plays, completing the 75-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run.

The running of Pinnix and Weber brought Minnesota downfield on its next drive, which finished with Ernie Wheelwright taking a third-down pass and weaving into the end zone for an 8-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter. Placekicker Jason Giannini, plagued by inconsistency last season, then booted his second point-after to bring the Gophers to within 21-14.

On defense, the Gophers went to four- and five-man fronts to increase the pressure on Sheehan and shut down the Falcon offense for most of the final two quarters. The Falcons did mount a drive after the Gophers had closed the gap to a touchdown. However, Barber knocked down a third-down pass, forcing a 32-yard field goal attempt by Sinisa Vrvilo that was well short in addition to being off-target.

Now with a chance to tie the game, Minnesota responded with another scoring drive, kept alive on a keeper by Weber on a third-and-two play. Weber then hit backup tight-end Nick Tow-Arnett for 56 yards to the Bowling Green 9. On third-and-goal from the five, Weber survived a wide snap and a blitz to loft a pass to Pinnix, who went untouched into the end zone. With Giannini’s conversion, the game was tied.

The Gophers forced another punt and took over at their own 42. Helped by a pass-interference penalty, they moved to the Falcons’ 16, and Giannini put Minnesota ahead with a 33-yard field goal with 2:12 left in the fourth quarter.

Bowling Green then moved against the Gophers’ prevent defense, converting a fourth-down pass on the way, and Vrvilo re-tied the game with a 35-yard field goal with three seconds left.

After a kickoff that went out of bounds, the Gophers tried a Hail Mary pass from their own 35. The ball was deflected by a hoard of receivers and defenders downfield and intercepted by P. J. Mahone, who started an entertaining but futile runback that included several laterals as the quarter ended.

In overtime, it took each team, starting at the opposing 25 yard line, only two plays to reach the end zone. The Gophers began on offense with a two-yard run by Pinnix, who followed by breaking through with a 23-yard run. Giannini’s kick put the Gophers ahead 31-24.

On Bowling Green’s possession, Sheehan hit Eric Ransom for 16 yards to the Minnesota nine and then found Marques Parks alone for a scoring pass as the Gophers blitzed on the play.

Falcons coach Gregg Brandon decided to go for the win with a two-point attempt rather than take chances with another overtime series. Sheehan moved right and pinpointed a bullet past the outstretched hands of Harris, hitting Freddie Barnes in the front right corner of the end zone. The Falcons celebrated heartily as the conversion gave them a 32-31 win.

In his post-game press conference, Brewster attributed the bad start to it being the “first game” and that there was “a lot of emotion.” He emphasized his admiration of the comeback, stating that the Gophers “fought their guts out in the second half.” But he acknowledged bitter disappointment at the outcome and that his team was not able to sing a spirited version of the Minnesota Rouser in the locker room after the game. (Instead, he led his kneeling team in the Lord’s Prayer.)

For Bowling Green, Sheehan completed with 34 of 51 passes for 388 yards and was not intercepted. Corey Partridge made all six of his catches, for 52 yards, in the first half before being injured. Ransom and Zach Charles led the Falcons with seven catches each, for 96 and 52 yards, respectively, while Barnes had six receptions for 99 yards.

Wheelwright and Decker each caught four passes for the Gophers, Wheelwright for 50 yards and Decker for 49.

The leading tacklers were linebackers John Haneline for Bowling Green, with 15, and Mike Sherels with 11 for the Gophers.

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