Scores

Final

N Illinois 27

(0-1, 0-1 away)

Minnesota 31

(1-0, 1-0 home)

Coverage: BTN

7:00 PM ET, August 30, 2008

1 2 3 4 T
NIU 0 10 10 727
MINN 7 3 14 731

Top Performers

Passing: C. Harnish (NIU) - 326 YDS, 2 TD

Rushing: D. Bennett (MINN) - 18 CAR, 92 YDS, 2 TD

Receiving: N. Palmer (NIU) - 3 REC, 170 YDS, 2 TD

Minnesota rallies in final minute to stop Northern Illinois 

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Duane Bennett pushed his way in for a 1-yard score with 22 seconds left to lift Minnesota to a 31-27 win over Northern Illinois on Saturday night -- yet another tight game for the Gophers against a Mid-American Conference opponent.

Coach Tim Brewster, who doubled his career victory total after a 1-11 season, told his guys to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the 3-yard line after calling their final timeout with 38 seconds remaining. Bennett charged forward for 2 yards on that play, before muscling the ball in for the winner, his second TD of the game.

That spoiled Huskies coach Jerry Kill's first game with his new team, a strong performance on the road against a Big Ten foe that featured touchdown catches by freshman Nathan Palmer -- of 91 yards and 53 yards -- in the second half to erase a 24-13 Minnesota lead.

Palmer blew by cornerback Ryan Collado on both plays, a familiar sight for fans of this team after an abysmal 2007 season in which the Gophers finished last among the 119 major teams in the nation in yards allowed. Former Duke head coach Ted Roof was hired as the defensive coordinator, the latest man asked to turn this sieve-like unit around.

Northern Illinois reached the Minnesota 30 on a desperation drive in the closing seconds and had two shots at the end zone, but both of Chandler Harnish's passes were knocked down. Wide receiver Eric Decker, aiding the defense after a solid game of pitch and catch with Adam Weber, batted the last one down as time expired.

Brewster's debut at Minnesota last season began ominously with a 32-31 defeat at home by Bowling Green followed by a 41-35 win over Miami of Ohio. The Gophers are 25-3-1 all-time against the MAC. Up next for Minnesota is a road game against Bowling Green. The Falcons traveled to Pittsburgh and beat the 25th-ranked Panthers 27-17 on Saturday.

Weber completed six passes to Decker on the first drive, mostly on short receiver screen plays during a methodical march for a touchdown -- an 8-yard toss to Decker in front of end-zone traffic -- that took 18 snaps and nearly 9 minutes off the clock.

Decker appeared to catch another score in the second quarter, when he landed on the turf with Huskies cornerback Melvin Rice before losing his grip on the ball. Joel Monroe kicked a 40-yard field goal that Mike Salerno answered with a 39-yarder to tie it at 10.

Tight end Jack Simmons, coming off a toe-injury-tainted season, turned a mid-range catch into a 53-yard touchdown on Minnesota's first possession of the second half with a stutter-step move that faked Rice at the 15 and made it 17-10.

Bennett raced untouched for a 61-yard scoring run to stretch the lead to 11 midway through the third quarter, but beyond the opening possession the Gophers failed to find an offensive rhythm.

After a successful stint at Southern Illinois, Kill moved up a tier and inherited a Huskies team that finished 2-10 last season beneath the burden of myriad injuries. They gave the Gophers a scare, but couldn't seal the deal.

Salerno kicked two field goals in his debut with the Huskies. He transferred from Division II Winona State.

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Team Stat Comparison

 
NIU
MINN
1st Downs1518
Total Yards398425
Passing326298
Rushing72127
Penalties2-143-20
3rd Down Conversions6-145-14
4th Down Conversions0-02-2
Turnovers11
Possession29:4930:11

Passing Leaders

Northern IllinoisC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Harnish17/2932611.220
MinnesotaC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Weber24/372988.120

Rushing Leaders

Northern IllinoisCARYDSAVGTDLG
Anderson13342.6112
Clanton5173.4015
MinnesotaCARYDSAVGTDLG
Bennett18925.1261
Weber12302.5014

Receiving Leaders

Northern IllinoisRECYDSAVGTDLG
Palmer317056.7291
Simon34916.3026
MinnesotaRECYDSAVGTDLG
Decker10898.9128
Simmons37725.7153

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERNIUMINN
TD06:03Eric Decker 8 Yd Pass From Adam Weber (Joel Monroe Kick)
Drive: 18 plays, 90 yds, 8:57
07
SECOND QUARTERNIUMINN
TD10:45Justin Anderson 2 Yd Run (Mike Salerno Kick)
Drive: 9 plays, 74 yds, 4:54
77
FG06:02Joel Monroe 40 Yd
Drive: 6 plays, 26 yds, 2:29
710
FG00:55Mike Salerno 39 Yd
Drive: 4 plays, 5 yds, 1:45
1010
THIRD QUARTERNIUMINN
TD11:25Jack Simmons 53 Yd Pass From Adam Weber (Joel Monroe Kick)
Drive: 3 plays, 64 yds, 1:17
1017
FG08:27Mike Salerno 49 Yd
Drive: 8 plays, 40 yds, 2:58
1317
TD08:07Duane Bennett 61 Yd Run (Joel Monroe Kick)
Drive: 1 plays, 61 yds, :20
1324
TD06:59Nathan Palmer 91 Yd Pass From Chandler Harnish (Mike Salerno Kick)
Drive: 3 plays, 91 yds, 1:08
2024
FOURTH QUARTERNIUMINN
TD08:09Nathan Palmer 52 Yd Pass From Chandler Harnish (Mike Salerno Kick)
Drive: 6 plays, 80 yds, 2:03
2724
TD00:22Duane Bennett 1 Yd Run (Joel Monroe Kick) 2731