Another Loss; Gophers Fall to Northern Illinois
September 25, 2010

Until recently, the Minnesota Gophers could be counted on to win non-conference games against Mid-American Conference (MAC) opponents and other lesser foes. However, a 34-23 loss to the MAC Northern Illinois Huskies wasn’t even met with horrified groans from Minnesota supporters. Such setbacks, this one coming after a loss two weeks before to South Dakota, have become expected events. By the end, so many fans had filed out that only a small throng remained to chant, “Fire Brewster.”

Two years before, it took a last-minute touchdown by the Gophers to defeat the Huskies in what was the first game for Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill and quarterback Chandler Harnish.

Now a junior, Harnish came into the game averaging 9.2 yards per carry, and it was figured that the Huskies would pound the line against the Gophers. They did, but it wasn’t Harnish covering the ground. Instead, senior tailback Chad Spann ran for 223 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s always a good feeling that you have big holes to run through,” said Spann after the game.

“It was just unacceptable how we played the run tonight, particularly the inside zone and some of that stuff with Spann,” said Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, who is likely in lame-duck status at this point. Brewster’s big talk when he was hired nearly four years ago hasn’t been matched by results.

Minnesota scored first on a 28-yard field goal by Eric Ellestad, but the Huskies countered that quickly. On the first play from scrimmage, Spann darted through a hole on the right side and outraced most of the Gophers down the sideline before being driving out of bounds by cornerback Brock Vereen. The 56-yard gain put the ball at the Minnesota 20, and five plays later Spann took it in from the 2 for a 7-3 lead.

After Ellestad missed a field-goal attempt from 42 yards, Northern Illinois expanded the lead to 10-3 on a 21-yard field goal from Michael Cklamovski. Ryan Collado then produced one of the few big plays for the Gophers, returning Cklamovski’s kickoff 57 yards to Northern Illinois’s 35. From the 20, Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber scrambled and fired over the middle. MarQueis Gray, on the 5, leaped and couldn’t catch the pass, but the ball ended up in the arms of Da’Jon McKnight in the end zone for a touchdown that tied the game.

Another big play for the Gophers came on the ensuing kickoff when the Huskies’ Jasmin Hopkins returned the kick 16 yards to the 23 but had the ball pulled from his arms by Minnesota’s Christyn Lewis as he was being tackled. The Gophers couldn’t advance the ball but got a 42-yard field goal by Ellestad to take a 13-10 lead.

Cklamovski made a 35-yard field goal to tie the game with 2:37 left in the half, and the Huskies held the Gophers on the next series. Northern Illinois then came up with a big play of its own when Jimmie Ward burst through the middle and blocked Dan Orseske’s punt, giving the Huskies the ball on the Minnesota 11. On a third-and-nine from the 10, Harnish connected with Martel Moore, who made a leaping catch behind cornerback Ryan Collado in the back left corner of the end zone with 3 seconds left, giving the Huskies a 20-13 lead at halftime.

“I think any time you block a punt it changes the momentum of a football game,” said Kill. “That was a big play in the game.”

The Gophers received the opening kickoff of the second half but gave the ball up at their own 40 as fullback Jon Hoese was stopped on a fourth-and-one. However, Minnesota’s defense held and forced a punt by Josh Wilber that sailed into the end zone for a touchback. The Gophers drove inside the Northern Illinois 5 but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Ellestad to cut the lead to 20-16.

Later in the third quarter, the Huskies started a drive from their 33. Two long runsó30 yards by Spann and 29 yards by Cameron Bell, gave Northern Illinois a first-and-goal at the 8. On third down from the 2, Harnish faked a handoff to Spann and then connected with fullback Connor Flahive in the end zone for a touchback to put the Huskies up by 27-16.

The Gophers moved the ball to their 45 and then had Bennett run 55 yards into the end zone, but Eric Lair was flagged by the back judge for holding downfield, nullifying the score and ball back to the 35. Weber survived a blitz and hit Bryant Allen for a first down in Northern Illinois territory. He then survived an interception as he tossed a shovel pass while under pressure as Huskies linebacker Jordan Delegal was called for roughing the passer. Once again, though, the Gophers were stopped on fourth down, and Northern Illinois took over on its 21.

Spann covered the 79 yards himself, running for a gain of 18 on the first play and, after an incomplete pass, bursting through the line and weaving and dodging through the secondary for a 61-yard touchdown run to make the score 34-16.

The Gophers responded with a 76-yard drive, capped by a 29-yard touchdown pass from Weber to Gray in the right corner of the end zone with 4:18 to play. Trailing by 11, Minnesota got the ball back with just under two-and-a-half minutes to go but the drive was stopped with 6 seconds left when Patrick George intercepted Weber’s pass in the end zone.

Minnesota finished ahead of Northern Illinois in total offense from scrimmage, 470 yards to 378. Gray was the game’s leading receiver with eight catches for 117 yards.

The Gophers will next host Northwestern, which is 4-0 after its non-conference schedule, in the first Big Ten game of the season for both teams.

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