Northwestern Rallies from 21-Point Deficit, Wins 49-48 in Double-Overtime
Saturday, October 13, 2007

Al Gore may know global warming, but Gopher football fans are even more familiar with the Minnesota meltdown.

Before a homecoming crowd of 23,314 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois, the Gophers let a 35-14 third-quarter lead against Northwestern evaporate the way polar ice caps succumb to greenhouse gasses, finally losing 49-48 in double-overtime, missing a two-point conversion attempt on the final play of the game.

This Gopher giveaway matched a similar lead lost to Northwestern in 2000, an eventual 41-35 win for the Wildcats at the Metrodome. In between there have been notable clones. Last December came the loss of a 31-point, third-quarter lead in the Insight Bowl that also caused the loss of a job for head coach Glen Mason. Minnesota blew two other significant leads and lost bowl games under Mason (a 24-0 lead against North Carolina State in 2000 and 21-7 to Virginia in 2005). There was also the loss to Michigan in 2003, a game in which the Gophers clung to a 28-7 lead entering the fourth quarter. In addition, in 2001, Minnesota had a three-point lead against Purdue, which was on its own 3 yard line, out of time outs, with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Of course, Purdue won. Another came in 2005 when the Gophers let go of a 10-point lead against Wisconsin with under three-and-a-half minutes to play. The Badgers won the game when Minnesota punter Justin Kucek dropped the snap on his goal line, then, rather than heave the ball through the end zone for a safety that would have left the Gophers with a one-point lead, foolishly tried to kick it. Wisconsin blocked the punt and fell on the ball in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown with under 30 seconds left.

This season had already produced a sizable blown lead (16 points with eight-and-a-half minutes left in the fourth quarter) against Miami of Ohio, although the Gophers rallied in triple-overtime for the only win Tim Brewster has been able to dedicate to Dinkytown Nation in his short but highly self-touted career as head coach. Brewster, by the way, “celebrated” his 47th birthday during the game against Northwestern.

What figured to be a high-scoring game turned out that way as the teams, even before the additional overtime possessions, scored 70 points and had more than 1,050 yards of total offense from scrimmage.

Northwestern junior quarterback C. J. Bachér was coming off a 520-yard passing game in an overtime win over Michigan State the previous week, and the Wildcats were second in the Big Ten (and 18th nationally) in passing yards per game. The Gophers, quarterbacked by freshman Adam Weber, weren’t far behind, ranking third in the conference and 32nd in the nation in passing.

Weber, with 268 yards rushing coming into the game, is the Gophers’ second-leading runner, behind Amir Pinnix, who has been hobbled by a bad toe in recent weeks. His backup, Duane Bennett, was out with an ankle injury, leaving the groundwork to Pinnix and Jay Thomas, supported by a strong offensive line.

As proficient as Minnesota and Northwestern are with the ball, they are just as bad when trying to stop opposing offenses.

On a cool and overcast day, with the sun making appearances about as frequent as pressure on the passers, big plays made the difference in the first half. On their second possession, the Wildcats converted twice on third down, the second a third-and-18 situation on which Brandon Roberson took Bachér’s pass, eluded one tackler to get first-down yardage, and then sidestepped safety Dominique Barber for a clear path to the end zone. However, Barber recovered and made an ankle tackle from behind, bringing down Roberson at the 2 after a 47-yard gain. Northwestern tried trickery on the next play, having Bachér walk toward his bench in apparent confusion as wide receiver Eric Peterman took a direct snap from center. However, defensive tackle Neel Allen wasn’t fooled and stopped Peterson short of the goal line. On the next play, Roberson burst through the right side of the line for a touchdown and a 7-0 Wildcats lead.

An exchange of punts left the Gophers with excellent field position. Minnesota started at the Northwestern 34 and faced a third-and-five. Ernie Wheelwright then gave the opening preview of what would be a spectacular game, taking a pass away from cornerback Deante Battle for a 24-yard gain to the 5. Thomas ran for three yards but was stopped short of the goal line on his next three carries, and Northwestern took over on downs.

Starting from its own 1, Northwestern moved 96 yards, more than half of it on a 51-yard gain on screen pass from Bachér to Omar Conteh, a favorite play of the Wildcats. However, the Wildcats came out of the long drive without any points as Amado Villarreal’s 21-yard field goal clanked off the right upright.

Minnesota stopped Northwestern on its next two possessions and, in between, got on the board with an 82-yard drive that included a 37-yard pass play to Jack Simmons, followed by a short pass to Marcus Sherels that turned into a 21-yard pass and a game-tying touchdown.

After getting the ball back, Minnesota engineered a 91-yard drive, one that featured a 60-yard pass from Weber to a wide-open Tray Herndon, giving the Gophers a first down on Northwestern’s 18. Pinnix had nice cutbacks on next two plays, each for nine yards, the latter capped by a vault into the end zone and a 14-7 Minnesota lead.

Northwestern came back with a six-play drive to re-tie the game. Bachér connected with Peterman for 28 yards to the Minnesota 28 on third-and-four. On the next play, Tonjua Jones, covered by Ryan Collado, leaped in the front left corner of the end zone, corralled Bachér’s pass, and brought his foot down before the rest of his body landed out of bounds.

Less than a minute-and-a-half remained in the half, but the Gophers got a break when Stefan Demos’s kickoff went out of bounds, and they got the ball at their own 35. They moved downfield but were only to Northwestern’s 26 when Weber called the team’s final time out with 14 seconds left. Weber then missed Decker in the end zone, a play that used up another six seconds. Weber went for the end zone again, and his pass appeared to be overthrown, but Wheelwright, extending his body, arms, and hands, took the ball in for a touchdown with two seconds showing on the clock and giving the Gophers a 21-14 lead to take into the locker room.

After a slow start, the Gophers had amassed 304 (241 in the air) yards to Northwestern’s 297 in the first half.

Minnesota started the third quarter by scoring on its third straight possession, helped for the second straight time by a poor kickoff. Northwestern tried an onside kick that not only went out of bounds but had a five-yard offside penalty assessed, giving Minnesota the ball on its 49. Pinnix broke through right tackle for 37 yards to the Northewestern 14. A holding penalty on Wheelwright on a run by Thomas brought the ball back to the 20, but Decker then took a short pass and followed tacklers into the end zone. With Joel Monroe’s conversion, the Gophers were up 28-14.

After Villarreal badly missed a 37-yard field-goal try for Northwestern, the Gophers converted their fourth straight touchdown drive. On third-and-10 from the Northwestern 28, Wheelwright beat strong safety Brad Phillips, taking a pass at the 17, and then spinning away from Phillips’s attempted tackledand veering into the end zone. Minnesota had a 35-14 lead with 6:18 left in the third quarter.

Up to this time, each team had done a good job protecting the football. That changed quickly. The Wildcats had a long drive end when Minnesota linebacker Deon Hightower, starting at middle linebacker for injured Mike Sherels, forced a fumble that was recovered at by Barber at the Northwestern 7 and returned six yards.

The Gophers then had trouble keeping the ball. Weber fumbled after a nine-yard run, but the ball was recovered by tight end Jack Simmons. Two plays later, though, Weber had his pass intercepted by linebacker Marcus Arrington, who returned it 27 yards to the Minnesota 8. On the next play, Bachér fired a bullet to a wide-open Ross Lane in the end zon to bring the Wildcats to within 35-21 with 1:33 left in the third quarter.

Another interception, on a pass tipped by linebacker Eddie Simpson and caught by defensive end Corey Wootton on the Gophers’ 47, led to another Northwestern score. On a fourth-and-three from the Minnesota 7, Bachér kept the ball on the option and ran into end zone, cutting the lead to 35-28.

The teams swapped punts, and the Gophers then had a chance for a 10-point lead erased when Monroe’s 44-yard field goal attempt was wide to the right. Down by seven, Northwestern started on its own 27 with 1:59 left in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Steve Davis pressured Bachér into throwing behind Conteh, but he was called for roughing the passer, a penalty that moved the ball to the 42. Bachér then connected on passes of 26 yards to Kim Thompson, 10 yards to Peterman, and 13 yards to Thompson, giving the Wildcats a first-and-goal at the 9. Two incomplete passes and a short toss to Conteh left Northwestern with facing fourth down at the four. The Wildcats let the clock run down before calling a time out with 12 seconds left, knowing that anything but a touchdown would make the time insignificant and wanting to leave the Gophers with little time for a comeback should they be successful.

Brewster increased the suspense by twice calling a time out as Northwestern approached the line for the fourth-down play. When the next play finally took place, Bachér held his ground and calmly found Peterman in the end zone with a pass. Villarreal, despite two ugly field-goal attempts, made his fifth point-after to tie the game 35-35.

Northwestern won the toss to start the overtime series and went on defense. On a third-and-six play for the Gophers from the 21, Wheelwright made another great grab, leaping in the front left corner of the end zone despite being interfered with, for a touchdown.

On its possession, Northwestern faced a fourth-and-four at the 18. But Bachér, under pressure, found Lane at the nine for a first down. A pitch to Conteh on an option was good for another five yards, and Bachér then connected with Lane for a touchdown to send the game to another overtime series.

This time Northwestern started with the ball. After moving the 14, Bachér and Roberson combined on a Statue of Liberty play with Roberson taking the ball on a fake pass and bringing it to the six. The pair did the reverse on the next play, Roberson taking a handoff and running it into the end zone as Bachér followed with a fake passing motion. Villeareal’s conversion put the Wildcats ahead 49-42.

On their possession, the Gophers scored as Weber kept the ball on the option and took it in for a three-yard touchdown. Brewster decided to end the game, one way or another, at this point by going for a two-point conversion. Wildcats tackle John Gill broke through and wrapped his arms around Weber. Although he didn’t bring the quarterback down, Gill left Weber unable to do anything but heave the ball into the ground, well short of Decker in the end zone. Northwestern had held on for a 49-48 win.

The victory evened the Wildcats Big Ten record at 2-2 (4-3 overall) while the Gophers dropped to 0-4 in the Big Ten (1-6 overall) and are the only team in the Big Ten without a conference win.

Combined with the 50 yards in overtime by each team, the Wildcats had 589 yards from scrimmage and the Gophers 580. Bachér completed 41 of 48 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns while Weber was 25 of 38 for 341 yards and five touchdowns. However, Weber’s two interceptions were what started the Northwestern comeback in the second half.

Wheelwright caught seven passes for 116 yards and three touchdowns. For Northwestern, Peterman caught 12 passes for 114 yards, and Lane had 108 yards on nine receptions. Conteh was Northwestern’s leading rusher, with 83 yards on 14 carries. For Minneosta, Jay Thomas finished with 100 net yards on 22 attempts while Weber ran 13 times for 89 yards.

Barber and Hightower were the Gophers leading tacklers with 11 and 10, respectively, while middle linebacker Adam Kadela had 15 tackles for Northwestern.

Back to Main Page