Oct. 19, 2013
EVANSTON, Ill. -- A late Northwestern rally came up just short Saturday afternoon as visiting Minnesota was able to hold off the Wildcats for a 20-17 win in a Legends Division matchup at Ryan Field.
In what was a tie game at halftime thanks in part to redshirt freshman Stephen Buckley's first career touchdown to open the scoring, Northwestern fell behind by 10 points in the fourth quarter before attempting to mount a comeback. QB Trevor Siemian, who had command of the offense in the absence of an injured Kain Colter, led a touchdown drive with less than three minutes to play to pull the 'Cats within three. The junior QB completed a career-best 25 passes on the day.
But an ensuing onside kick attempt was turned over to the Gophers after it was ruled to be touched by the Wildcats prior to traveling the necessary 10 yards. Minnesota's Philip Nelson then converted a 3rd-and-6 rushing attempt to seal the win.
Minnesota relied on a 3-0 advantage in the turnover battle to turn the outcome in its favor, a margin that included a 24-yard interception return for touchdown by James Manuel late in the third quarter that broke a 7-7 tie.
Northwestern limited the Gophers to only 123 yards passing on 9-of-14 attempts, forcing Minnesota to a steady ground diet that resulted in 176 yards on 49 carries. Cornerback Nick VanHoose led NU with a career high 11 tackles -- including eight solo stops -- while Tyler Scott added six stops with a game-high 2.0 TFLs.
Missing starting tailback Venric Mark in addition to Colter, Northwestern found its footing offensively on its third possession when wideout Tony Jones caught a pass from Siemian and escaped the grasp of two Gopher defenders for a key third-down conversion. Buckley followed that with a 33-yard run, and Siemian completed a pass to Christian Jones for yet another first down. Buckley then finished the drive with runs of 11 and 3 yards, the latter for his first career touchdown, putting the Wildcats up 7-0.
Buckley's 54 yards on the drive eclipsed his previous single-game high of 53 set vs. Maine on Sept. 21; he would finish with 58 on the game on the nine carries.
Minnesota made a change under center to begin the second quarter, sending in Philip Nelson for Mitch Leidner, and the transition helped the Gophers put together their first sustained drive of the game. The series was capped with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to Derrick Engel to tie the game at seven midway through the second quarter.
The offensive action largely subsided through the remainder of the first half, concluding with a missed 44-yard field goal by Minnesota's Chris Hawthorne on the final play of the second quarter.
Northwestern came up with a defensive stand in its own territory late in the third quarter to force another Minnesota punt, but the Wildcats' drive would be short-lived as Manuel intercepted a Siemian offering and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown, giving the Gophers a 14-7 lead.
On Northwestern's next offensive play from scrimmage following the pick-six, Siemian was sacked and lost the ball in the process, with the Gophers recovering deep in Northwestern territory. The NU defense came up with another big stop, holding the Golden Gophers to a 34-yard field goal to keep the Minnesota lead at 10 with 14:55 to go in the game
A 35-yard field goal by Jeff Budzien finished a 13-play, 57-yard drive and brought the 'Cats back to within seven. Budzien tallied five points on the day, bringing his career total to 238 -- second-most in Northwestern school history.
However, the Gophers responded with a 38-yard field goal of their own to extend their lead to 20-10 with 5:24 left.
Needing two scores in short order, Siemian and the Wildcats converted on three fourth down scenarios to piece together a 14-play drive that culminated in a 10-yard pass from Siemian to Tony Jones.
With 2:07 remaining and with all three timeouts in tow, the Wildcats opted to attempt an onside kick but it was unsuccessful and Minnesota was able to run out the remaining time on the clock to hold on for the win.
Northwestern's Big Ten season rolls on with back-to-back road contests the next two Saturdays, beginning next week when the Wildcats head to Iowa for an 11 a.m. matchup. The broadcast will be carried nationally on the Big Ten Network.
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