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Gophers defeat Syracuse in OT

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- What a difference a drive makes. Take Saturday, for example. The Gophers had a last chance, at their own 12. Less than 5 minutes separated Minnesota from an opening-day loss to a Syracuse team that is rebuilding, and an 0-1 star...

Interception
Minnesota's Nathan Triplett (32) celebrates after intercepting a pass in the end zone intended for Syracuse's Mike Owne (85) during overtime on Saturday in Syracuse, N.Y. the Gophers won 23-20. (Kevin Rivoli / Associated Press)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- What a difference a drive makes.

Take Saturday, for example. The Gophers had a last chance, at their own 12. Less than 5 minutes separated Minnesota from an opening-day loss to a Syracuse team that is rebuilding, and an 0-1 start to a season that will see a return to on-campus football.

And Adam Weber is thinking: Just keep moving the chains.

"We knew we had a job to do," Weber said. "The good thing is that a lot of us were able to make plays at the end."

Fourteen plays later Eric Ellestad's 26-yard field goal sent the game into overtime, one that ended with a 23-20 victory thanks, again, to Ellestad.

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And so the Gophers come home for next week's opening of TCF Bank Stadium humble but happy, unsatisfied but undefeated.

"We found a way, in a very adverse environment, and under tough conditions, to win. ..." said head coach Tim Brewster. "We didn't do everything right, by any means. We have a lot of things to work on. But I'm excited that we find a way to win the football game."

Syracuse opened the overtime by driving to the Gophers' 4. But that drive ended on third down when Nate Triplett intercepted Greg Paulus' pass. Six plays later, Ellestad hit the game-winner.

It was the fourth overtime game of Brewster's two-plus seasons with the Gophers, and the second overtime victory. The way it ended made it possible to shrug off -- at least a little -- the way it began.

The Gophers jumped to a 14-3 lead thanks to Cedrick McKinley's fumble recovery on Syracuse's first play and Troy Stoudermire's big kickoff return later in the first quarter. But, for the rest of the first half the offense struggled and the defense looked out of sync. Weber's passes were too high or too low and the defense was a little slow to catch on to the Orange's bubble screens and runs out of the Wildcat formation.

At halftime -- after the Orange had just marched 67 yards to take a 20-14 lead -- the Gophers had been outgained at the Carrier Dome.

But, as Eric Decker said, it's how you finish.

"What we talked about all off-season was finishing," said Decker, who practiced what he preached. He had two catches and 50 receiving yards through three quarters, but ended up with nine for 183. "That's the biggest thing after last year that we needed to work on. We displayed that today. We stuck together. I think we wanted it more than them. We came out and [when it counted] we blocked well, made some catches. Shoot. That's what a good football team does."

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It's not like the Gophers roared back in the second half. Clawed is more like it.

After making Orange quarterback Greg Paulus look he hadn't missed a beat in years away from football in the first half, they made him look a little rusty in the second.

The defense made adjustments, and they worked. The Orange gained only 77 second-half yards and were held scoreless.

On offense it took a little longer. The Gophers offensive line was jumpy in the loud dome and Weber was feeling some pressure.

The first possession of the second half ended in a punt. Then the Gophers mounted an eight-play drive that ended with Ellestad's 26-yard field goal mid-way through the third quarter. But, when Ellestad's 47-yard attempt was tipped early in the fourth, time started getting tight. The Gophers didn't get the ball back until there was 4:45 left. Then the Gophers found a way.

Weber, struggling early, finished strong. He went 7-for-10 on the drive, for 78 yards. He hit Brandon Green three times for first downs on slants. He hit Decker three times for 38 yards.

The Gophers moved the chains.

"We knew we had struggled throughout the game and it was very frustrating," said Weber, who finished 19-for-42 for 248 yards, one touchdown and an interception. "What is was that none of us started feeling down, none of us felt sorry for ourselves. Going into that final drive, I don't think we felt any pressure."

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What, Weber worry?

"There are a lot of things we need to work on coming out of this game," Brewster said. "We're humble in victory. ... But, I thought we did a nice job of adjusting. We came out of it with a win. And we look forward to opening up our new stadium next week. It will be special."

Minnesota 14 0 3 3 3 -- 23

Syracuse 10 10 0 0 0 -- 20

First Quarter

Minn--Bennett 16 run (Ellestad kick), 14:41.

Syr--FG Lichtenstein 23, 13:01.

Minn--Stoudermire 7 pass from Weber (Ellestad kick), 11:48.

Syr--Williams 29 pass from Paulus (Lichtenstein kick), :32.

Second Quarter

Syr--FG Lichtenstein 42, 7:26.

Syr--D.Carter 1 run (Lichtenstein kick), 1:39.

Third Quarter

Minn--FG Ellestad 26, 8:03.

Fourth Quarter

Minn--FG Ellestad 26, :57.

Overtime

Minn--FG Ellestad 35.

A--48,617.

Minn Syr

First downs 16 15

Rushes-yards 32-112 34-90

Passing 248 167

Comp-Att-Int 19-42-1 19-31-1

Return Yards 27 14

Punts-Avg. 5-42.6 8-45.9

Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-1

Penalties-Yards 10-61 8-68

Time of Possession 29:31 30:29

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING--Minnesota, Bennett 16-78, Eskridge 8-29, Hoese 2-10, Stoudermire 2-3, Whaley 1-0, Weber 3-(-8). Syracuse, D.Carter 23-88, A.Bailey 5-31, Davis 1-(-3), Paulus 4-(-12), Team 1-(-14).

PASSING--Minnesota, Weber 19-42-1-248. Syracuse, Paulus 19-31-1-167.

RECEIVING--Minnesota, Decker 9-183, Stoudermire 4-22, Green 3-28, Bennett 2-3, Ni.Tow-Arnett 1-12. Syracuse, Williams 7-94, Lemon 5-17, Owen 2-18, Provo 2-8, A.Bailey 1-15, Davis 1-11, Lobdell 1-4.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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