Minnesota Scores Late to Defeat NIU

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Minnesota's Duane Bennett scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 22 seconds remaining and Northern Illinois' last-second pass in the end zone was batted down as the Golden Gophers claimed a 31-27 win over the Huskies in the 2008 season-opener for both teams.

Northern Illinois nearly completed a miraculous comeback after getting the ball with just 22 seconds left in the game. Redshirt freshman quarterback Chandler Harnish, who completed 17-of-29 passes for 326 yards in his NIU debut, calmly drove the Huskies to the Minnesota 30 before a pair of passes to the end zone fell incomplete. The loss spoiled new head coach Jerry Kill's opener and dropped Northern Illinois to 0-1 on the year. Minnesota went to 1-0.

"I can't fault the effort, the kids played well," Kill said. "We had a chance to win several times. There are a lot of good things we can take away from the game. We did some things well enough to win, that's what is disappointing."

Down 27-24 with 5:15 remaining, Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber marched the Gophers 74 yards in 10 plays on the game-winning drive. He completed passes of 16, 6, 17 and 23 yards to take UM to the 11 yard-line. After a seven-yard run by Weber to get the ball to the four, Bennett rushed three straight times before crossing the goal line.

Northern Illinois had taken its first lead, 27-24, with 8:09 left in the game when Harnish hooked up with fellow freshman Nathan Palmer on a 52-yard touchdown play for their second TD connection.

Palmer caught three passes for 170 yards and two scores to notch the 13th-best receiving day in Huskie history. With NIU backed up on its nine-yard line and facing third and 10, he caught a pass over the middle from Harnish, dodged a pair of tacklers and sprinted to the end zone to pull Northern Illinois within four at 24-20 with 6:59 left in the third quarter. The 91-yard pass play was the fifth-longest ever at NIU.

Harnish, the first freshmen quarterback to start a season opener for the Huskies since 1985, played well in his first game action, said Kill.

"I thought Chandler played very well," Kill said. "We had to ask him to do some things that we didn't want to have to ask him to do. Offensively, if we could have run the ball a little better in the second half, we could have done some more things. But they are big up front and give them credit, we didn't move them."

NIU gained just 72 yards on the ground in the game and had only 16 after halftime. Minnesota was held to 127 yards on the ground on 31 carries while Weber completed 24-of-37 passes for 298 yards and two TDs.

Defensively, Northern Illinois was led by senior linebacker Tim McCarthy and safety Mike Sobol with eight tackles each. Defensive ends Larry English and Brandon Bice each collected one sack while English also came up with a fumble recovery.

Minnesota took a 7-0 lead after opening the game with an 18-play, 90-yard drive that consumed nearly nine minutes on the clock.

Northern Illinois tied the score at seven in the second quarter when Justin Anderson scored after a nine-play, 74-yard drive highlighted by a 26-yard pass play from Harnish to Matt Simon.

After the Golden Gophers regained the lead on a 40-yard field goal by Joel Monroe, the Huskies responded. After Chad Spann blocked a Minnesota punt and Tracy Wilson recovered at the Gophers' 27-yard line, kicker Mike Salerno converted on a 39-yard three-pointer. The half ended in a 10-10 tie.

In the second half, Salerno added a 49-yard field goal, the longest by a Huskie kicker since 2005 and the eighth-longest in school history.

Northern Illinois next opens Mid-American Conference play versus Western Michigan with a 6 p.m. (Central) game in Kalamazoo next Saturday.

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