Badgers Stun Gophers on Late Blocked Punt
Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bad hands followed by a bad decision by Minnesota punter Justin Kucek gave the Wisconsin Badgers a stunning 38-34 victory over the Gophers. “Just when you think you’ve seen about everything, you haven’t,” said Badgers coach Barry Alvarez after the game.

Leading by three points with 35 seconds to play, the Gophers lined up to punt from their own 17 yard line. Kucek dropped the ball on the snap, picked it up, and found himself in trouble. Rather than run into the end zone or hurl the ball through the back of the end zone for a safety, Kucek tried to get off a kick. Jonathan Casillas blocked the punt and then kept his composure as the ball bounced into the end zone. Rather than lunge for the ball and risk knocking it out, which would have meant a safety, Casillas and teammates surrounded the ball before Ben Strickland fell on it for the game-winning touchdown.

Minnesota had called a time out prior to the punt, but the break was apparently not used by Kucek to think about what to do in the event of a misplay nor by the coaching staff to remind him that a safety remained an option.

Minnesota was coming off a victory at Michigan, its first win against the Wolverines in 19 years, while Wisconsin was trying to bounce back from a 51-48 loss to Northwestern. The Badgers had allowed more than 300 yards in both rushing and passing against the Wildcats. In the air, they did better against the Gophers, holding backup quarterback Tony Mortensen to 99 yards passing, all in the first half. On the ground, however, Wisconsin allowed 411 net yards.

Other than a 14-yard bootleg by Mortensen on a fourth-down play in the final quarter, all the carries were by Laurence Maroney (43 rushes for 258 yards) and Gary Russell (19 for 139 yards). Long touchdowns by the tandem in the third quarter looked like they would be the difference in the game. The first of the two was an electrifying 93-yard run by Maroney early in the quarter to break a 10-10 tie. Maroney burst through a hole, made two cuts to his left to evade tacklers, then turned inside a block from Ernie Wheelwright and used his speed to leave his remaining defenders behind.

A 49-yard field goal by Jason Giannini later in the quarter put Minnesota ahead, 20-10. Wisconsin’s Brian Calhoun, held to just 14 yards in the first half, came alive on the next drive, catching one pass for 14 yards (on a third-and-ten from the Badgers’ 31) and carrying the ball five times for 36 yards, the final one being a 17-yard touchdown run.

Minnesota’s Jamal Harris was called for a personal foul for hitting Calhoun after he had crossed the goal line, meaning that Wisconsin was able to kick off from the 50 yard line. Taylor Mehlhaff put the kickoff through the end zone, and the Gophers started from their own 20. However, Minnesota moved quickly downfield. Six plays later, Russell ran for a 37-yard touchdown, and, with Giannini’s conversion, the Gophers had re-established their 10-point lead.

The teams exchanged touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin’s score came with 11:15 left to close the gap to three points. Minnesota countered with a magnificent 19-play drive that, in addition to resulting in seven points, took nearly eight minutes. Twice the Gophers faced a fourth down on the drive. The first time, they got the yardage needed on Mortensen’s bootleg. Later, Maroney ran for three yards on a fourth-and-two from the Wisconsin four. Two plays later, Russell got the touchdown, and the Gophers led 34-24 with 3:27 to play.

Wisconsin came back, covering 71 yards for a touchdown in barely over a minute. The scoring play was a 21-yard pass from John Stocco to Brandon Williams. Williams held on to the pass despite having his helmet grabbed and twisted by Dominic Jones, who was flagged for a personal foul.

Once again, the penalty allowed Wisconsin to kick off from midfield. With only one time out left and 2:10 on the clock, the Badgers opted for an on-side kick attempt. Although they didn’t recover, they did leave the Gophers in poor field position as the ball, after bouncing off Trumaine Banks of the Gophers, ricocheted off a Badgers’ foot and traveled downfield inside the Minnesota 10. Maroney was able to fall on the loose ball, although the Gophers were on their own 8. Maroney carried the ball three times but was stopped short of a first down, setting up the botched punt that won the game for Wisconsin.

Minnesota’s last hope ended when Jakari Wallace fumbled on the kickoff return. Wisconsin recovered, and Stocco then took a knee for the final play.

Penalties hurt the Gophers throughout the game. Stopped on its first possession, Minnesota punted from its 25. Brandon Williams was hit as he was catching the ball, which squirted loose and picked up by Minnesota’s Dominique Barber, who continued into the end zone. However, the touchdown was nullified because the Gophers were penalized for an illegal formation.

A holding penalty later in the quarter stalled a Minnesota drive, which was then stopped when tackle Nick Hayden blocked Mortensen’s fourth-down pass from the Wisconsin 32.

The Badgers followed with a 68-yard drive, capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Calhoun, that gave Wisconsin a 7-0 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Minnesota came back with a touchdown as tight end Matt Spaeth fought off Wisconsin’s Joe Stellmacher in the end zone for a 5-yard completion.

Taylor Mehlhaff, who had missed a 36-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter, connected on one from 44 yards to give the Badgers a 10-7 lead, but Minnesota tied the game as Giannini kicked a 25-yard field goal as time expired in the half.

Minnesota controlled the second half, building and re-building a 10-point lead, only to let the game get away at the end.

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