Winfield interception seals 38-35 double OT Gophers win over Fresno State

Antoine Winfield Jr.'s interception in double overtime late Saturday night sealed a 38-35 win for the Gophers at Fresno State. (credit: University of Minnesota)

For the second straight year, Antoine Winfield Jr. came to the rescue to lift the Gophers to a non-conference win over Fresno State.

Winfield’s interception in double overtime sealed a 38-35 come-from-behind victory over the Bulldogs. Minnesota is 2-0 on the season and 8-0 in non-conference games under third-year coach PJ Fleck. Jorge Reyna, who passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns, had a receiver open down the seam for what would’ve been a game-winning touchdown. In coverage on another receiver, Winfield made the read, raced over and did what safeties do. He saved the game with a leaping interception.

Last year, Winfield was beaten in coverage for what would’ve been a game-tying touchdown when he made up the lost ground and got an interception with one foot down to seal a victory.

"I think he's going to be exiled from this state," Gophers coach PJ Fleck told KFAN Radio after the victory.

The Gophers got the win despite fumbling five times, losing three, and committing crippling defensive penalties at key times.

The sequence was set up with Tanner Morgan’s best throw of the night to force overtime. With the Gophers trailing 28-21, he found Chris Autman-Bell for a 20-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone on 4th and 13. Autman-Bell made the leaping catch and got one foot in bounds to tie the game.

The Bulldogs got the first score of overtime as Reyna found Ronnie Rivers for a 4-yard touchdown and a 35-28 lead over the Gophers. But Fresno State was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play, giving Minnesota the ball at the 13-yard line. Morgan kept the ball on the 3-yard touchdown to tie the game 35-35, and force a second overtime.

Freshman kicker Michael Lantz, who was perfect on extra points Saturday night, drilled a 37-yard field goal in double overtime before Winfield’s game-sealing interception.

When Fleck goes back to look at the tape, there will be plenty of teaching and learning opportunities for the Gophers. The night started by Morgan connecting with Rashod Bateman for a 15-yard touchdown capping an 11-play, 75-yard drive on the game’s first possessionl

The Gophers took a 14-3 lead in the second quarter on Rodney Smith’s 1-yard touchdown run, capping a 10-play, 65-yard drive.

Minnesota appeared to be in control after getting a third down stop, but Taiyon Devers got a 15-yard face mask penalty to keep the Fresno State Drive alive. Two plays later, Reyna found Rivers, who beat Thomas Barber on a wheel route, for a 25-yard touchdown. Fresno State was back in it, trailing 14-10.

With that lead in the third quarter, the Gophers again had a third down stop negated by a Jordan Howden holding call. They got a field got to get within 14-13.

Morgan had one of his three fumbles on the ensuing possession trying to run for a first down. Five plays later, Reyna connected with Jared Rice for his catch of the game, a 14-yard touchdown and after a two-point conversion on a trick play, the Bulldogs had a 21-14 lead.

The Gophers answered with a 15-play, 78-yard drive capped by Mohamed Ibrahim’s score from 1-yard out to tie the game 21-21. The key play on the drive was a 16-yard completion from Morgan to Rashod Bateman on 3rd and 10 that extended the drive and took the game into the fourth quarter.

Minnesota’s defense followed with a three-and-out, but Demetrius Douglas ran into a teammate on Fresno State’s punt, it was muffed and the Bulldogs recovered. Reyna scored from two yards out to give Fresno State a 28-21 lead with 5:58 left, setting up the final heroics.

Morgan finished the night 16-of-23 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He also lost two fumbles. Ibrahim and Smith combined for 149 rushing yards on 39 carries. Bateman finished the win with seven catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Johnson had four catches for 71 yards.

Minnesota out-gained Fresno State 146-62 on the ground. The Gophers finished with 380 total yards.

Fresno State scored 25 of its 28 points in regulation as a result of Gophers penalties that extended drives, or turnovers.

The Gophers (2-0) finish the non-conference slate hosting Georgia Southern next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at TCF Bank Stadium.