Gophers prevail in double overtime thriller against Fresno State

Antoine Winfield Jr once again saves Minnesota with game-winning interception.

by Nick Jungheim

For the second consecutive game, the Gophers found themselves in a back-and-forth nail-biter, this time on the road at Fresno State. Once again, Minnesota’s (2-0) defense made a big play when the team needed it most, sealing a 38-35 victory in double overtime over Fresno State (0-2). 

“Anybody could have won that game,” head coach P.J. Fleck told the media after the game. “Somebody had to lose it, somebody had to win it. We were fortunate enough to come out with the victory. That could have easily gone either way.”

On the game’s opening drive, Minnesota’s offense marched down the field. The Gophers jumped out to a 7-0 lead as redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan connected with sophomore wide receiver Rashod Bateman to cap an 11-play, 75-yard drive.

After Fresno State added a field goal, Minnesota leaned on the run game to put together another solid possession. With 4:38 left in the first half, redshirt senior running back Rodney Smith lunged across the goal line from a yard out on the 10th play of the drive, extending the lead to 14-3.

Momentum swung after a facemask penalty on senior defensive lineman Tai’yon Devers negated a third down stop. Two plays later, Fresno State junior running back Ronnie Rivers hauled in a 25-yard touchdown.

The Bulldogs made the score 14-13 with another field goal after halftime. Then on their next drive, senior tight end Jared Rice scored to put Fresno Sate in front for the first time with 4:27 left in the third quarter. A successful two-point conversion made the score 21-14.

Back on offense, Minnesota responded. Once again finding their groove, going 78 yards on 15 plays and taking over eight minutes off the clock. Another one-yard touchdown, this time by redshirt sophomore running back Mohamed Ibrahim tied the game.

It appeared that Minnesota would get the ball back quickly, forcing a three-and-out on the ensuing Bulldog possession. However, redshirt sophomore wideout Demetrius Douglas muffed the Fresno State punt, the Gophers third turnover of the night. The Bulldogs took advantage of the short field, as senior quarterback Jorge Reyna punched in the go-ahead touchdown six plays later.

Minnesota reached the Fresno State red zone on the ensuing possession but chances for a victory looked slim as the Gophers faced a 4th and 13 with under a minute to play. With the game on the line, Morgan threw a perfect pass to redshirt sophomore Chris Autman-Bell in the back corner of the end zone, forcing overtime.

“We got in the huddle, coach Fleck was like, ‘It’s coming to you’,” Autman-Bell told the media. “I knew it was my time to shine.”

After the teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime period, freshman kicker Michael Lantz converted his first career field goal attempt to give Minnesota a 38-35 lead in double overtime. On the first play of the next drive, Reyna appeared to have found an open receiver in the end zone when redshirt sophomore Antoine Winfield Jr came out of nowhere to intercept the pass, clinching a Minnesota victory.

“They ran a post route to cross my face,” Winfield told the media. “And as I was looking at my receiver I saw the ball thrown, and I just speed-turned and the ball came right to me.”

Winfield’s interception evoked memories of last season’s contest between the two teams, a 21-14 Gophers victory. In that game, Winfield’s acrobatic interception sealed the win. Same as Saturday night, Fresno State appeared to have an open receiver in the end zone before Winfield’s exceptional instincts and athleticism allowed him to get in position to make a play.

“It was very similar,” Winfield told the media. “It was like deja vu.”

While Minnesota couldn’t get out of its own way at times with turnovers and damaging penalties, a number of key  performers led the way to victory. Senior linebacker Kamal Martin led the team with 13 tackles after missing the season opener due to suspension. On offense, Ibrahim rushed for 88 yards on 17 carries and Bateman eclipsed 100 yards receiving for the second straight week. Morgan was efficient through the air once again, completing 16 of 23 attempts for 234 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s a winner,” Fleck said of Morgan. “The kid’s not this and he’s not that, too small, too this. He’s a winner. He just wins. He’s 6-2 as a starter now, he just wins.”

The win improves the Gophers to 2-0 on the season. The Gophers return home to TCF Bank Stadium to take on Georgia Southern on Saturday September 14 at 2:30 p.m.