FB: Gophers Suffer 38-34 Loss to Wisconsin

Go Gophers!
Go Gophers!

Go Gophers!
heart-breakin The University of Minnesota football team (5-2, 2-2) lost 38-34 to border rival Wisconsin in heart-breaking fashion in front of 65,089 fans at the Metrodome Saturday. Leading 34-31 with just :38 remaining in the game, the Gophers lined up to punt from their own 17-yard line. Gophers punter Justin Kucek then fumbled the snap, recovered the ball and tried to kick it. But Wisconsin’s Jonathan Casillas blocked the kick into the Gophers’ endzone where it was recovered by Ben Strickland for a touchdown, giving Wisconsin the decisive score.

The Gophers had a 34-24 lead with 3:27 remaining. Minnesota chewed up nearly eight minutes on the clock during a 19-play, 80-yard drive that Gary Russell capped with a one- yard touchdown plunge. The drive consumed 7 minutes, 48 seconds during which Minnesota converted two key fourth down conversions. First, facing fourth-and-two from the Wisconsin 37, Mortensen faked a hand-off to Laurence Maroney, bootlegging around right end for 14 yards. Then on fourth-and-one from the Badger five, Laurence Maroney carried to within inches of the goal-line. Two plays later, Russell scored his second touchdown of the day to put the Gophers up by 10.

Wisconsin came back by marching 71 yards in seven plays capped by a John Stocco to Brandon Williams 21-yard touchdown pass with 2:10 remaining.

Strangely enough, Wisconsin’s onside kick set up the decisive play. The kick ricocheted off players, careened down the field and ended up in the arms of Maroney on the Gophers seven-yard line. After running three running plays for nine yards, the Gophers faced a punting situation.

Led by Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell, the Gophers gained over 400 rushing yards and scored three rushing touchdowns. Maroney carried 43 times for a career-high 258 yards, while Russell gained 139 yards on 19 carries. The two Gophers running backs each rushed for more than 100 yards for the second consecutive week. Maroney surpassed 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season, joining Ron Dayne of Wisconsin and Sedrick Irvin of Michigan State as the only players in Big Ten history to rush for 1,000 yards in their first three seasons

The Badgers had trimmed Minnesota’s lead to just three early in the fourth quarter. Brian Calhoun capped a 43-yard drive in four plays with touchdown run from a yard out. Calhoun’s third touchdown of the game cut the Gophers lead to 27-24 with 11:15 to go.

The Gophers took a 10-point advantage, 27-17 at the end of the third quarter after Gary Russell’s touchdown run from 37 yards out. Russell’s TD run capped a three-play, 80-yard drive that took only 33 seconds. It was Minnesota’s third score of the quarter.

Minnesota opened the second half in very impressive fashion forcing a pair of three-and-out’s on Wisconsin’s first two possession of the half, while scoring points on each of its first two possession. First, Laurence Maroney electrified the home crowd with a 93-yard touchdown run, the longest touchdown run of his career and the second-longest in school history. Maroney’s burst gave the Gophers their first lead of the game, 17-10.

The Gophers then extended the lead to 10 points for the first time in the game after Jason Giannini connected on a career-long field goal attempt of 49 yards with 8:30 remaining in the third quarter and Minnesota led 20-10.

Wisconsin cut into the lead on its next possession, marching 69 yards in 11 plays, capped by a Brian Calhoun 17-yard touchdown run with 3:55 left in the third.

The two teams combined to score points on three straight possessions in the first and second quarters. Wisconsin got on the board first when Badger running back Brian Calhoun ran in from a yard out with :25 left in the first quarter, capping a seven-play, 68-yard drive, to put the Badgers up 7-0.

Minnesota then responded with a 12-play, 80-yard march, capped by Tony Mortensen’s first career touchdown pass to tight end Matt Spaeth from five yards out on third-and-goal with 9:54 remaining in the second quarter. Maroney carried six times for 31 yards, Russell gained 27 yards on three rushes, and Mortensen went 3-of-3 passing on the drive that knotted the game at 7-7.

But the Badgers came right back to take a 10-7 lead after driving 40 yards on eight plays to set up a 44-yard field goal by Taylor Mehlhaff.

Minnesota responded late in the second quarter with a scoring drive to tie the game at 10-10. The Gophers drove 50-yards in eight plays to set up a Giannini 25-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.

Early on it looked as if Minnesota had drawn first blood. Forced to punt after going three-and-out on its opening possession of the game, Amir Pinnix hit Badger punt returner Brandon Williams, forcing a fumble. Dominique Barber picked up the loose ball and carried it into the endzone for an apparent touchdown. But the play was called back because of an illegal formation penalty on Minnesota.

The Badgers, however couldn’t capitalize after the Gophers’ mistake. After driving to the Minnesota 20-yard line, the Maroon and Gold defense stiffened forcing a Wisconsin field goal attempt. But Taylor Mehlhaff missed the 36-yard try wide-right.

Wisconsin was led by Calhoun with 110 yards on the ground on 23 carries, Stocco finished with 235 yards passing on 15-of-26. Williams caught seven passes for 121 yards.

Mortensen completed 7-of-17 for 99 yards in his first career start. Trumaine Banks led the Gophers with 11 tackles.

The Gophers have a bye week before taking on Ohio State on October 29 at the Metrodome.

Game Notes
• Minnesota leads the series against Wisconsin by a 59-48-8 margin. The Golden Gophers are 37-18-2 all-time in home games vs. the Badgers. This is the 115th meeting between the two schools. It is the longest-running series in Division I-A history.
• This is the fifth time in the history of the series that both teams are ranked in the AP top 25.
• Today’s attendance of 65,089 is the second-highest for a Golden Gopher game at the Metrodome. Minnesota and Iowa played in front of 65,184 on Nov. 23, 2002.< BR> • Laurence Maroney became the first player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Darrell Thompson rushed for 1,000 yards in three of his four seasons
• Maroney’s 93-yard touchdown run is tied for the second-longest in school history. Byron Evans also had a 93-yard run against Memphis on Sept. 19, 1998. Darrell Thompson holds the school record with a 98-yard run against Michigan on Nov. 7, 1987.
• Maroney’s 93-yard run is tied for the sixth-longest in Big Ten history.
• Maroney’s 93-yard run is tied for the fifth-longest play in school history.
• Maroney owns three of the seven longest runs in school history. He has a pair of 80-yard runs.
• Maroney surpassed 200 yards rushing for the third time this season and in his career. That ties the school’s career record, held by Chris Darkins (1992-95), Darrell Thompson (1986-89) and Garry White (1977-80). Maroney is the first player in school history to have three in the same season. Four other players had two in the same season.< BR> • Maroney rushed for a career-high 258 yards. It is the fourth-highest single- game total in school history.
• Maroney moved into fifth place all-time with 587 rushing attempts. His 43 attempts today are three shy of his career high. His total is the third-highest in a single game.
• Maroney surpassed 100 yards rushing for the 19th time in 32 career games, including 18 times in the last 24 games. He has rushed for 100 yards or more six times this season.
• Minnesota is 16-3 when Maroney rushes for 100 yards or more.
• Maroney surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark in the first half for the fifth time this season and the 10th time in his career.
Jason Giannini hit a career-long 49- yard field goal in the third quarter.
• Redshirt freshman Tony Mortenson made his first career start in place of the injured Bryan Cupito. This is the fifth game that Mortenson has appeared in this year. He had seven career pass attempts entering today’s game.
• Mortenson threw his first career touchdown pass in the second quarter to Matt Spaeth. It’s Spaeth’s second touchdown of the season and sixth of his career.
• Cupito had started 18 straight games before missing today’s game.
Mark Setterstrom and Greg Eslinger made their 45th consecutive starts today.
• Following Taylor Mehlhaff’s failed field goal attempt in the first quarter, Minnesota’s opponents have missed their last three attempts. Mehlhaff ended the streak with his field goal in the second quarter.
• Junior Logan Payne returned his first career punt in the first quarter. He returned it four yards.
• Junior Trumaine Banks moved into sole possession of sixth place with 23 career pass break-ups.
Jared Ellerson extended his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 26.
• Senior Kyle McKenzie recorded his first sack of the season in the second quarter. For his career, he has 3.5 sacks.
Gary Russell has rushed for two or more touchdowns in five games this season. He leads the team with 10 rushing touchdowns, the 12th-highest single-season total in school history.
• Junior Mario Reese recorded his first career forced fumble in the third quarter. He recorded his third career sack on the play.
• Senior Anthony Montgomery recorded his third career fumble recovery.
• Minnesota had 14 takeaways in the first four games.
Gary Russell recorded his third 100- yard rushing effort this season. It is the second straight week he has reached 100 yards. He rushed for a career-high 139 yards.
• Minnesota had two rushers over 100 yards for the 19th time during Glen Mason’s tenure at Minnesota (16.8 percent of the time). It is the third time this season (Fla. Atlantic/ Michigan).
• Minnesota has posted 400 yards or more of total offense in 17 consecutive home games.
• Minnesota has rushed for 300 yards or more in five of seven games this season.
• This is the sixth straight home game that Minnesota has rushed for 300 yards or more.
• Minnesota had two scoring drives of 80 yards or more…both lasted less than one minute.
• Minnesota has scored 20 or more points in 41 of the last 47 games.
• Minnesota is 77-68-2 all-time at the Metrodome. Glen Mason is 36-19 at the Dome.
• This is only the sixth time under Glen Mason that the Golden Gophers have been tied at halftime.
• The Golden Gophers have not been shut out since Nov. 22, 1997, a school record span of 91 games. The last time UM was shut out was in a 31-0 loss at Iowa.
• Minnesota has reached double digits in 36 straight games. Ohio State held Minnesota to three points on Nov. 2, 2002.
• Minnesota has reached double digits in 49 straight home games. Ohio State held Minnesota to three points on Nov. 8, 1997.
• Minnesota has rushed for 200 yards or more in 25 of the last 32 games.


QUOTES Minnesota Head Coach Glen Mason
“It was a tough game needless to say. When I walked out to shake Barry’s hand, we both said at the same time ‘When you think you’ve seen it all’. The only difference was that he was smiling and I wasn’t”

“I thought we played our tails off. These kids left everything on the field. One more play here and there and a couple more inches and the outcome would have been different. This is a team game. While our individual accomplishments were impressive today, the most important thing is getting the victory and we weren’t able to do that.”

“The book tells you to kick the field goal. I wasn’t comfortable with that. I thought if we could score a TD and our defense would have been able to hold up, we would be in great shape. We just let them score too fast which set up the ending in very dramatic fashion.”

“You always look back at plays that could change the outcome of the game. The opening possession, we had a touchdown called back because of a penalty. We missed a wide open play-action pass. We had a touchdown called back because of a holding call. Then a missed field goal. Do I think all those calls were correct? I don’t know but we needed to capitalize on those.”

“To go from such a dramatic finish seven days ago to another one today, but with different emotions, really hurts. I really feel for my team right now. It almost hurts worse to lose like this than when you get killed. They left it all on the field.”

“Mortensen did a real fine job. Not only was it his first start, but it was against one of our biggest rivals. I thought he did enough to help up to win the game and that’s all we asked from him. Even though Cupito was cleared to play by our staff, I made the decision on Tuesday to go with Mortensen. We expect to have Cupito back for Ohio State.”

“We rushed for 411 yards and that is with having a couple great running backs. You still need to have a great offensive line to run for that many yards. I don’t care how great your running backs are. Today, I thought the combo of our running backs and offensive line did a great job.”

Running Back Gary Russell:
On going up by 10 points:
“I didn’t think it was necessarily in hand. There was still three minutes left on the clock. I knew they could still get down the field and score. They have some big play receivers.”

On whether the passing game was hampered by not having Bryan Cupito: “Not really. The passing situations we did have, they weren’t blitzing, which surprised me. Tony did a great job.”

On the loss:
“It hurt. That was a darn hurtful loss. To lose that that in the last minute is frustrating. It was fundamentals that lost the game. Any time after a loss like that it is going to be quiet. Everybody has their heads up, but it was just a horrible loss for our seniors. I wanted to win that axe for the seniors. I wish we could get right back on the field, because I don’t want to be sitting around thinking about that loss.”

Running Back Laurence Maroney:
On the loss:
“That was something that I would have never imagined happening, but it did. You just have to take it. It hit me, but I can’t really do too much about it. It happened, so now we just have to get prepared for Ohio State.”

On the play of the offensive line:
“Like always, they should get all the credit. They make it easy for me to hit the holes. They were opening up some pretty big holes for me, so all I had to do was just run.”

On his 93 yard touchdown run:
“The whole game I was telling Gary (Russell) and everybody that they were over pursuing the outside. They put too much out there to stop us from getting to the outside, and I thought I had to gamble. You’re either going to get yelled at for cutting back if you mess up, or they are going to love you. I just took a gamble, and cut back, and everything came out right.”

On the blocked punt:
“It’s not his (punter Justin Kucek) fault. Things happen. You can’t stop things from happening. We just have to forget about it, and focus on getting ready for Ohio State.”

On the onside kick:
“To tell you the truth. I thought there is no way that the ball is getting back here. I was surprised, like whoa! I was just hoping that the ball wouldn’t take a funny bounce and make me look stupid. I just had to cover it up. What a crazy play.”

Wisconsin Head Coach Barry Alavarez
“I’m really proud of our players’ ability to hang in and battle. As thin as our defensive line is and lost three more today, we’re just trying to hold up. The offense kept us in the game, and just when you’ve seen everything, you haven’t. I’ve been in some crazy shootouts, but never one like that. This is as good of a win as I’ve had.”

On the last series of plays
“I felt if we got a stop, we’d probably get the ball back at midfield with about 35 seconds left. With the offense, I knew we’d probably get into field goal range. Coach Mason could have taken a safety, but that’s his call and I’m not going to second-guess him. I think they’re lucky they’ve got the onside kick. Ken DeBauche kicked it really well. I’ve never seen a ricochet like that. It gave us hope if we got the stop.”

On Minnesota’s running game
“You think you stop them and then you look up and it’s second-and-five, and that’s a hopeless feeling. They put a lot of pressure on a defense and they do it well. With a 270- pound tight end cracking from the end, the defensive backs have pressure to make the tackle.”

On his team’s ability to bounce back
“We hadn’t lost morale, but when you fight for four quarters, it’s tough to always bounce back. The offense kept us in the game the last two weeks and to get out with a win feels really good.”

Defensive back Brett Bell
On taking the axe back:
“It will be a big game for the next year. We’ll have that in the case for the whole next year. Being able to see it every day will just make it that much bigger of a game next year.”

On playing till the last second: “Yeah, that’s what we emphasized the whole summer. At practice, Monday through Friday, that’s what we emphasize is finishing the game.”

On Minnesota’s rushing attack:
“They’re good. Maroney and Russell are two solid backs, and their offensive line is obviously nationally known, so they are good.”

On believing till the end:
“Absolutely. Especially in the Big Ten, anything can happen. You never go into a game knowing what the outcome is going to be, so you can’t go into the last five minutes of the game knowing what the outcome is going to be.”

Running back Brian Calhoun On playing till the end:
“Obviously, you keep playing till it’s over. Our special teams made a big play, and it turned out to be the go ahead touchdown.”

On picking it up in the second half:
“You know, we didn’t really stick to our game plan in trying to establish the run in the first half. Some of the looks they showed us we’ve never seen. When we got the ball the first possession of the second half we tried to establish the run. We started getting some outside runs, so we kept going that way and finally got a touchdown in the third quarter.”

On the atmosphere after Minnesota when up by 10:
“Obviously guys were still into the game. You don’t want to panic in that situation, but it’s hard not to look down when you’re down by ten and they’re running the ball so well. The offense just hung in there, and if we had a chance to go down and kick a field goal to go into overtime, or even go ahead, we were prepared to do that.”

On not being able to get a lead:
“Obviously we were putting up points, but then they would come right back and scored quickly. It’s frustrating for us, but the only thing the offense can do is score points and prepare ourselves for that position. The special teams made a great play at the end, and it didn’t really matter whether we had to be on the field or not.”

On what it means to have the axe:
“You never really know how big the tradition and the game is until you play in it. It was obviously a great atmosphere, and it was a big win for us, not just because it was Minnesota, but also because it means we’re still in the Big Ten race.”