Northwestern Edges Minnesota on Homecoming

The Gophers were unable to get the ball into field goal position late in the fourth quarter trailing unbeaten Northwestern by one. The Wildcats had trouble protecting the ball on Saturday and the Gophers did a good job of capitalizing off Wildcat mistakes but stumbled to an 0-1 start in conference play.

The Gophers were coming into homecoming nursing a three game home losing streak and a 1-3 record, but they welcomed the Wildcats to TCF Bank Stadium with a clean slate and a 0-0 record in the Big Ten. The first game of the conference schedule was important to the Gophers, not only because it was homecoming, but because they would have to hit the road for two games and then return for Ohio State on October 30.

After a rough start, with Northwestern scoring early on 45-yard pass from Dan Persa to Tony Jones, the Gophers took advantage of a Northwestern fumble to tie things up 7-7. Turnovers would prove to be a problem for the Wildcats, losing two fumbles and one interception. One Northwestern fumble came as the Wildcats were inside the Minnesota 10 and threatening to score. The Gophers capitalized off two of the turnovers, and protected the ball well for most of the game.

Minnesota took the lead late in the second quarter and headed into the locker room with a 21-14 advantage. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerld attempted to convert fourth down with two minutes to go in the half but Persa's pass fall incomplete. The Gophers drove the ball from their own 33 to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 4-yard plunge by DeLeon Eskridge.

A missed extra point by Northwestern on their first touchdown of the second half kept the Gophers in the lead, and on the Wildcats next drive Gopher cornerback Michael Carter picked off Persa's pass at the Minnesota 10 yard line.

It was at this point it appeared that the Gopher rushing attack was going to take over. The offensive line seemed to be wearing down the Northwestern defensive line and the Gophers pushed the ball down the field for a 90-yard, 6 minute drive that combined a mix of runs from Duane Bennett and Eskridge with a 25 yard touchdown pass from Weber to tight end Eric Lair.

The Wildcats answered with a touchdown on their next possession and then took a one point lead on a 27-yard field with two minutes remaining. The Gophers took possession on their own 38 after Bennett fumbled the kickoff return right into the hands of Troy Stoudermire who returned it to the Gopher 38. The Gophers had just over two minutes to drive the ball into field goal position, but with time running out and the Gophers facing fourth down and eleven, Weber's pass was picked off by Ben Johnson.

The Gophers head to Madison next week to take on the Badgers, who will be coming off a loss to Michigan State. If the Gophers want to bring Paul Bunyan's Axe home with them, Minnesota's tenth-ranked rush defense will have to step it up a notch against Wisconsin's second-ranked rush offense.

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