MINNEAPOLIS - PJ Fleck had a dilemma as the University of Minnesota football team held its Spring Game on Saturday at its indoor facility, already moved days in advance with rain and storms in the forecast.
Big Ten Network officials told him the scrimmage to end spring football had to be over by 2:58 p.m., when they were leaving the broadcast. At the time, the game was tied 10-10. Still tied 13-13 after overtime, Fleck opted for sudden death field goals between Matthew Trickett and Dragan Kesich.
After the two traded conversions, Kesich missed wide left from 52 yards out. Trickett converted from the same yardage, giving Maroon a 19-16 win over Gold.
"Television producing might be in my future," Fleck joked. "I’m not so sure what I would’ve done if Dragan would’ve made that last one plus Trick. I’m not sure what we would’ve done, TV doesn’t wait for anybody."
On the same day the Gophers finished spring practice, Carter Coughlin, Kamal Martin, Rashod Bateman and Antoine Winfield Jr. were guest coaches. Tyler Johnson was back, and Boye Mafe watched fresh off being the No. 40 overall pick in the NFL Draft to the Seattle Seahawks.
Saturday, Daniel Faalele became the first Gophers’ offensive lineman drafted in 16 years. The Minnesota Vikings drafted defensive end Esezi Otomewo, and tight end Ko Kieft is joining Johnson and Winfield in Tampa Bay.
"What a fun day. Just tremendous to have those guys back. It was just a really positive day for our program, our university, our football program, our alumni. It was good to have our family back in house," Fleck said.
On the field, lesser-known depth players were the stars Saturday as Fleck didn’t play several regular starters between injuries and rest. Larry Wright had three catches for 55 yards and a first quarter touchdown. Fleck said a talk with Wright this time last year served as motivation.
"He made some really big plays. He works his tail off, but I thought there was a decision he had to make last year to have to, want to, mature, grow up in all the good ways, and he did. He’s put a lot of work in, and you saw that today pay off," Fleck said.
Kendall Moore’s lone catch of the day went for a 7-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Michael Brown-Stephens, with his younger brother who is a coveted recruit watching, had four catches on 10 targets for 50 yards. Zach Evans had 11 carries for 53 yards for the Gold Team. Jordan Nubin had 15 carries for 48 yards for Maroon.
Brown-Stephens, one of Minnesota’s top returning receivers, said the competition is the most fun part of spring football.
"Even when you’re down, you know that the next guy is still going to go hard and you don’t want to get embarrassed so it just pushes you go to hard. I love that competitiveness we all have," Brown-Stephens said.
Tanner Morgan played one series and was 1-for-4 for 12 yards before Cole Kramer took over for Maroon. He finished 9-of-19 for 112 yards and a touchdown. Kramer also had a fourth quarter pass intercepted by Derik LeCaptain.
Athan Kaliakmanis quarterbacked the Gold team, finishing 10-of-22 for 143 yards and a touchdown. He had a second quarter pass intercepted by Miles Fleming.
"The whole point of this was take the floor and elevate it as we continue to build depth for our football team," Fleck said.
Fleck left the game up to his kickers at the end, and with the Gold team encroaching and screaming in Trickett’s face, he nailed the winning kick before his teammates mobbed him and they celebrated with Goldy’s Cup.
"Part of that is just completely shutting both sides out. You just need to worry about snap, hold and I trust Brady and Crawf with my life. Once I saw the snap was back, hold was down, I just had to do my job," Trickett said.
Fleming, Brown-Stephens and Trickett were named the Sid Hartman Spring Game MVPs.
Several players had individual moments, but the day was largely won by the defense. The two squads created two turnovers, got several third down stops and allowed a combined 20 points. They also combined for seven sacks, four on Kaliakmanis and three on Kramer. They were touch plays, as quarterbacks are not allowed to be hit during spring football.
"It was awesome. Everybody was just playing so hard today. When you’re part of a team where everybody is playing for each other, that’s the result," LeCaptain said.
The Gophers are now off until fall camp, where the journey starts to build off a 9-4 season in 2021 and contend for the Big Ten West title.