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Hail the Gophers for Improbable Win

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September 8, 2019


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Long-suffering Golden Gophers football fans should be dancing in Dinkytown this afternoon while singing the Minnesota Rouser over and over again.

Skeptics of coach P.J. Fleck and the program?

They might consider spending the day shopping for an “oar.”

Minnesota earned an un-Gopher like win at Fresno State early Sunday morning, 38-35 in two overtimes. A program in search of consistency and quality wins for decades can thump its chest after “Rowing the Boat” to an improbable victory against the Bulldogs.

This was the kind of game many past Gopher teams would have found too difficult to put in the win column. Minnesota traumatized itself with fumbles and the most inopportune penalties imaginable. The most knucklehead of egregious errors came late in the second quarter with the Gophers cruising at 14-3. The defense had stopped the Bulldogs on three downs but a personal foul on a Minnesota player far removed from the outcome of the last play gave the football back to Fresno State.

The Bulldogs and the home crowd were resuscitated by the development, and by halftime the Minnesota lead was down to 14-10. The Gophers could have been ahead 21-3 at the half if a first quarter drive near the Fresno red zone hadn’t ended with a Mohamed Ibrahim fumble.

With third quarter momentum, the Bulldogs put up 11 points and Minnesota was down 21-14 entering the final period. The Gophers continued to make mistakes that minimized their likelihood to win in the fourth quarter including with a muffed catch on a punt that led to Bulldog points. The Gophers didn’t even get everything right in overtime, but they found ways to overcome including a last minute fourth quarter touchdown pass from quarterback Tanner Morgan to Chris Autman-Bell. (Both the throw and catch will make the 2019 season highlight film.)

In the second overtime true freshman Michael Lantz kicked a pressure 37-yard field goal to send Minnesota ahead 38-35, but the Bulldogs had one more chance either tie or to win the game. Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. had other ideas and he wrote his name into program history by making an end zone interception to say goodnight to the Bulldogs. Because he had saved a Gopher win with a last play interception a year ago against Fresno in Minneapolis, the folks in Bulldogs country won’t be forgetting his name either.

Everyone here able to spell déjà vu?

Fresno State was picked this summer by the Mountain West Conference media to win the league’s West Division. The Bulldogs’ record last season was 12-2, including that loss to Minnesota. Fresno had opened this season with a close loss at USC in front of a jacked up, huge crowd in the remodeled Coliseum. Coach Jeff Tedford has quickly revived the Fresno program after having success for years at California, a program filled with heartbreak that Gopher fans know too well.

P.J. Fleck

Gone are the days that any college football observer should dismiss an opponent because they don’t play in the Big Ten or other Power Five Conferences. Yesterday Army took Michigan into overtime before losing in the “Big House.” Kansas coach Les Miles, who some misguided Minnesota fans wanted for the Gopher job before Fleck was hired in 2017, lost to Coastal Carolina.

The Bulldogs are a good team, led by an exceptional coach. Last night they didn’t screw up like Minnesota and could have won the game. But the Gophers (who have been among the least penalized teams nationally dating back to Fleck’s first season, and seldom have fumbling woes) had the resolve and the playmakers to overcome and win for the fifth time in their last six games.

Those victories have not come against chumps. Late last year Minnesota downed Purdue, lost to Big Ten West Division champ Northwestern, defeated Wisconsin on the road, and won a bowl game against Georgia Tech. In the 2019 season opener, the Gophers broke a 21-21 fourth quarter tie to defeat South Dakota State, one of the best FCS teams in the nation.

Two games, two wins this year. Far from the prettiest victories but wins just the same. It’s been a trek in late summer that lesser Gopher teams of the past would have failed at and “drowned.” The 2019 group has so far continued the impressive close to last year.

The “boat” is not sinking.

The sale of “oars” should be rising.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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