(Saturday, November 1st)
Final Score: Northwestern 24, (20) Minnesota 17
Minneapolis, MN (Sports Network) - Brendan Smith returned an interception 48 yards for the winning score with 12 seconds to play, lifting Northwestern to a 24-17 victory over 20th-ranked Minnesota at the Metrodome.
Minnesota had the ball in the final minute of the fourth quarter and tried to drive toward a field goal.
However, Gopher quarterback Adam Weber had a pass tipped by receiver Eric Decker at the Minnesota 40 and the ball caromed off Northwestern's David Oredugba before going into the hands of Smith, who raced down the left sideline and got a couple of key blocks before winding his way to the end zone.
"You have to give them credit there," said Weber. "We were still going down to win the game and get ourselves in the position to kick a field goal. I thought it was a pretty safe play and Eric probably makes that catch 99 out of 100 times."
Minnesota's last attempt with a lateral after a reception was fumbled as time expired.
The interception spoiled a solid day for Weber, who completed 31-of-51 passes for 327 yards with a touchdown. He also ran for 53 yards in defeat, as the Gophers (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) had a three-game winning streak stopped and saw their slim hopes for a share of the Big Ten title slip away.
"The last play isn't what beat us, it was the entire game," said Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster. "You have to give credit to Northwestern for winning and executing their game plan. There wasn't a lot of consistency in anything we did today. I'm still optimistic and coaching a 7-2 football team with a lot to play for and some big games ahead. We have no excuses, Northwestern won the game out and out and that's the way it is."
Mike Kafka did it all for Northwestern in place of the injured C.J. Bacher, running for 217 yards -- a school record for quarterbacks -- on 27 carries while throwing for 143 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions on 12- of-16 passing. The Wildcats (7-2, 3-2) have won two of their last three.
Northwestern scored first, taking the opening kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown. Kafka completed each of his three passes on the seven-play march, capping it with a 36-yard scoring strike to Jeremy Ebert.
The Wildcats tacked on a 34-yard field goal from Amado Villarreal on their second possession, then watched Minnesota take the lead with 14 straight points.
On the first play of the second quarter, Weber threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Decker to complete an 80-yard march.
After a trade of punts, Kafka had a pass picked off by Traye Simmons, who returned the interception 23 yards for a touchdown to give the Gophers a 14-10 lead with 10:07 left in the half.
Kafka, however, atoned for the mistake about four minutes later with a 53-yard run that set up a two-yard scoring toss to Josh Rooks, giving Northwestern a 17-14 edge.
Minnesota answered with a 13-play drive and tied the game with a 21-yard field goal from Joel Monroe just 36 seconds before the intermission.
The Gophers had the first chance to break the deadlock late in the third quarter, but Monroe missed a 20-yard field goal try.
Kafka was then picked off again by Simmons inside the Minnesota 10-yard line on the ensuing possession and the Gophers were quickly stopped on fourth down at the Northwestern 31-yard line in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
A 38-yard Kafka run on the first play after the turnover on downs set the Wildcats up at the Minnesota 31-yard line, but the drive soon stalled and Villarreal missed a 47-yard field goal attempt.
"We just couldn't get off blocks and make plays on Kafka," Brewster added. "I give the quarterback and their staff great credit and that's how they won the football game. He was a much better runner than their usual starter and we knew that coming in. Bottom line was that we didn't have an answer."
Bacher had a streak of 25 straight starts stopped because of a hamstring injury...Kafka's rushing total smashed the old Northwestern record for a quarterback, as Zak Kustok had 115 yards in a 2001 game against Penn State...The Wildcats finished with 220 yards on the ground, while Minnesota managed just 68 yards rushing...The Gophers lost for the first time in five tries at home this season...Minnesota hosts Michigan next Saturday, while Northwestern takes on Ohio State in Evanston.
11/01 17:01:40 ET