FRESNO, Calif. -- Antoine Winfield Jr. went flying through the air to save the Gophers yet again. And once more, Fresno State fell victim.
For a second straight season, the Gophers safety played the hero with a game-saving interception in the end zone to keep Fresno State from beating Minnesota.
Last year, Winfield’s stunning pick on a trick play came at the end of regulation at TCF Bank Stadium. On Saturday, his turnover in the second overtime helped produce a 38-35 win at Bulldog Stadium.
“I don’t think Antoine Winfield Jr. is ever going to be allowed back in the state of California,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “What a football game.”
The Gophers had been self destructing throughout the game. Out of six total fumbles for Minnesota, three were lost and led to 15 points for Fresno State. Out the Gophers’ seven penalties, three flags were directly tied to 17 more points for the Bulldogs.
Combined, it looked like it would all doom Minnesota. But the Gophers have started 2-0.
For Fresno State (0-2) and quarterback Jorge Reyna, they lost like this last week, too, as a late interception in the end zone cost them in a 31-23 loss to Southern Cal.
On Minnesota’s last-ditch drive in the fourth quarter Saturday, fumbles by Seth Green and Tanner Morgan were recovered by Minnesota. But trailing 28-21, it killed two crucial plays and made odds of a necessary touchdown look long.
On fourth and 12 from Fresno State’s 20, the Gophers went for the end zone instead of the first down. Chris Autman-Bell ran a slant and go to the corner of the end zone and Morgan threw a perfect pass. Autman-Bell caught it and got his left foot down to force overtime.
“I was shocked when I caught it,” the redshirt sophomore said his first collegiate touchdown. “Crazy moment in moment in my life, man.”
The Gophers were one of the least-penalized team in FBS last season and to star this year, but they kept costing themselves Saturday. A facemask penalty on defensive end Tai’yon Devers allowed a Fresno State drive to stay alive late in the first half, and they scored a touchdown to get back in the game at 14-10. Early in the third quarter, a holding call on safety Jordan Howden aided the Bulldogs to tack on a field goal and get closer at 14-13.
In the first overtime, Reyna threw incomplete on third and goal from the 10, but linebacker Braelen Oliver was called for roughing the passer. The Bulldogs scored on the next play to force Minnesota to score a touchdown and extend the game. Morgan then capped the U’s first overtime possession with a 4-yard TD run.
In the second overtime, Minnesota’s true freshman kicker Michael Lantz made his first collegiate field goal in his first attempt, from 37 yards to make it 38-35. Then Winfield conjured deja vu.
“That is a crazy player, man,” Autman-Bell said. “That’s NFL stats right there. That is a ballplayer, a superstar. He made the same play again like last year.”