Oct. 23, 1999

%^$* Game Stats
%^$* Play-by-play%^$

%^$AP Sports Writer


MINNEAPOLIS – Ohio State has some life left after all, thanks to a%^$Minnesota team that can’t quite shake its shoddy play or its sorrowful past.%^$

The 22nd-ranked Buckeyes slipped past No. 24 Minnesota 20-17 Saturday when%^$the Golden Gophers faltered in the fourth quarter against a ranked team at the%^$Metrodome for the second straight time.%^$

Dan Stultz kicked a 40-yard field goal with 1:15 left and Matt Wilhelm%^$recovered Tyrone Carter’s fumble on the ensuing kickoff as the Buckeyes (5-3,%^$2-2) avoided their first 1-3 Big Ten start since 1988 and beat the Gophers for%^$the 16th straight time.%^$

Jerry Westbrooks caused the fumble that secured Ohio State’s improbable%^$victory over the Gophers (5-2, 2-2), who dominated the game statistically until%^$failing to gain a first down in three fourth-quarter possessions.%^$

The Gophers were hoping for a number of firsts Saturday – their first 6-1%^$start since 1967, their first victory over Ohio State since 1981 and their%^$first victory over a ranked team in three years.%^$

A victory over the Buckeyes also would have given Minnesota its first%^$winning season in nine years and made them bowl eligible for the first time in%^$a dozen seasons.%^$

Instead, the Buckeyes may have salvaged their season. With trips left to%^$Michigan and Michigan State, the Buckeyes were in danger of posting their first%^$losing season since 1988, John Cooper’s first year as coach.%^$

“You’re looking at a happy football coach,” Cooper said. “Minnesota has a%^$great football team. They’ll win enough games to go to a bowl game. But we did%^$not want them to beat us. We’re fighting for our lives.”%^$

Stultz and Michael Wiley both snapped out of slumps.%^$

“This is really bigger than what people think,” said Wiley, who ran for%^$118 yards and two touchdowns and threw a 28-yard pass that set up a field goal%^$for the Buckeyes. “Now, hopefully, we can get rolling and finish the season%^$great. Had we lost, who knows where we would turn?”%^$

Steve Bellisari, benched for four second-half series, returned at%^$quarterback and took a halfback pass from Wiley 28 yards to the Minnesota 24,%^$setting up Stultz’ 43-yard field goal that tied it at 17 with just over six%^$minutes remaining.%^$

The Gophers went three-and-out again, and the Buckeyes went to work dousing%^$Minnesota’s dreams of joining the Big Ten’s upper echelon.%^$

“I knew I was going to make it before I went out there,” Stultz said after%^$his first game-winning field goal in college or high school.%^$

Then Carter, the Gophers’ best player, fumbled.%^$

“Does anybody in the country play harder than that guy,” his coach, Glen%^$Mason, said. “And you think I’m going to sit here and be critical of that guy%^$fumbling?%^$

“I mean, I don’t like fumbles, but if I’ve got the game on the line and a%^$chance to win, is there a guy that I’m going to want with his hands on the ball%^$more than Tyrone Carter? He’d die for the University of Minnesota.”%^$

But Carter ducked reporters afterward.%^$

Mason had plenty of other players to blame.%^$

“The real story is we left our defense on the field too long,” he said.%^$”When it came down to the end when we really needed them to play, they were%^$spent.”%^$

Wiley, who gained just 37 yards on his first 11 runs, darted up the middle%^$for a 44-yard touchdown that gave Ohio State a 14-10 lead in the third quarter%^$following a switch from Bellisari to Austin Moherman.%^$

But Karon Riley stripped the ball from Monherman on the next series, and%^$Astein Osei recovered. The Gophers then drove 52 yards for Thomas Hamner’s%^$7-yard TD run that put Minnesota ahead 17-14.%^$

The Gophers led just 10-7 at halftime despite dominating the game in almost%^$every phase, including a 187-46 edge in total yards, 114-12 in rushing yards%^$and 10-2 in first downs.%^$

Ohio State needed to go just five yards for a 7-0 lead after cornerback Nate%^$Clements intercepted Billy Cockerham’s second pass and returned it 36 yards,%^$setting up Wiley’s 3-yard TD run.%^$

Cockerham’s 9-yard keeper tied it at 7, and Dan Nystrom’s 30-yard field goal%^$made it 10-7.%^$

“It is frustrating,” Riley said of the Gophers’ second straight%^$three-point conference loss at the Metrodome. “It’s like you keep going to the%^$store and the stuff you want is never there.”