Special Teams Save Wolverines in Win at Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. -- Senior placekicker Hayden Epstein (Cardiff, Calif./Torrey Pines HS) kicked a 31-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining to give the University of Michigan football team a 20-17 victory Saturday afternoon (Nov. 17) at Camp Randall Stadium. The Wolverines (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) remain tied with Illinois for the league lead heading into the final week of the Big Ten Conference regular season. With the victory, Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr improved to 5-0 against Wisconsin, including a 3-0 mark at Camp Randall Stadium.

In the bizarre ending, the Wolverines moved the ball to midfield following a missed field by the Badgers that kept the game tied 17-17 with 1:26 to play. Forced to punt with under 30 seconds remaining, Epstein hit the ball 40 yards where it bounced sideways and hit the back of Wisconsin's Brett Bell on the 13-yard line. Junior cornerback Brandon Williams (Omaha, Neb./Central HS) noticed the touch and ran the football into the end zone. The ball was placed at the 13-yard line because a player cannot advance a punt, and Epstein kicked the game-winning field goal on the ensuing play.

The Wolverines special teams unit came through with a pair of big punt blocks in the game, scoring a touchdown on a block and 43-yard return by freshman cornerback Marlin Jackson (Sharon, Pa./Sharon HS) in the second quarter and setting up a 25-yard field goal by Epstein in the third quarter as Marquise Walker (Syracuse, N.Y./Henninger HS) blocked the punt attempt by R.J. Morse.

Wisconsin took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards to grab a 7-0 lead. On third down at Michigan's one-yard line, junior quarterback Brooks Bollinger kept the ball on an option play to give the Badgers the lead. The Wisconsin scoring drive covered 12 plays in 5:51 and was aided by a 30-yard run from tailback Anthony Davis and two key third-down passes by Bollinger.

After pinning Wisconsin at their one-yard line following a 48-yard punt by Epstein, the Michigan defense held and forced a punt situation. Walker took the punt at the 50-yard line and returned it 10 yards to the Badgers 40-yard line.

The Wolverines used the excellent field position to tie the score, 7-7, with 36 seconds left in the first quarter as junior/sophomore quarterback John Navarre (Cudahy, Wis./Cudahy HS) tossed a one-yard touchdown pass to senior/junior reserve tight end Deitan Dubuc (Fabreville, Quebec/Vieux Montreal). The 10-play scoring drive by U-M took 4:18, with Navarre completing a 16-yard third-down pass to junior wide receiver Ronald Bellamy (New Orleans, La./Archbishop Shaw HS) and keeping for a one-yard gain on third down.

The punt return team gave Michigan a 14-7 lead with 8:21 left in the second quarter as Jackson, a true freshman cornerback, blocked Morse's punt and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. The punt block was the fifth of the season for the Wolverines, with each block coming by a different player.

Michigan looked to increase its lead with nine seconds left in the first half but Epstein missed a 46-yard field goal attempt wide right. Starting at the U-M 40-yard line, Navarre kept the drive alive with a nine-yard pass to fifth-year senior tight end Shawn Thompson (Saginaw, Mich./Nouvel HS) and moved into scoring territory following a 19-yard reverse by Bellamy. The Wolverines reached the Badgers' 15-yard line following runs of six and 10 yards by Chris Perry (Advance, N.C/Fort Union Military, Va.), before the drive stalled and moved backwards on the final two plays.

After failing to score on its first two possessions of the second half and holding Wisconsin deep in its own territory, the punt block team came through with its second big play of the game. Walker broke free and blocked a punt by Morse where junior/sophomore safety Jon Shaw (Coral Springs, Fla./St. Thomas Aguinas HS) recovered and gained two yards to Wisconsin's five-yard line. The Badgers held and forced a 25-yard field goal by Epstein that gave the Wolverines a 17-7 lead with 8:27 remaining in the third quarter.

The Badgers answered the Wolverines' field goal with a 10-yard touchdown run by Davis to trim the deficit to 17-14 with 5:03 to go in the third quarter. The 10-play scoring drive that covered 71 yards in 3:14 saw Davis and Bollinger each carry three times for 20 yards. Bollinger added a key 22-yard pass to tight end Mark Anelli that moved the ball into Michigan territory.

On the ensuing drive, Navarre had the ball batted out of his hands by linebacker Nick Griesen and recovered by defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne at the Michigan 26-yard line. The Wolverine defense held the Badgers without a first down and forced a game-tying 46-yard field by placekicker Mark Neuser with 1:58 on the third-quarter clock.

Neither team mustered much offense in the fourth quarter until the Badgers took the ball at their 22-yard line at the 8:50 mark and steadily moved down the field into scoring territory before the Wolverine defense forced a field goal attempt. Wisconsin came within a foot of the lead as kicker Neuser missed a 36-yard field wide right with 1:26 remaining in regulation, setting up the strange ending.

Michigan concludes the regular season with the 98th meeting of the annual "Big Game" against Ohio State. The matchup with the Buckeyes will be played at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 24, at 1 p.m. and will be nationally televised by ABC Sports.

Contact: David Ablauf, Jim Schneider (734) 763-4423

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