Winfield’s late interception locks in 21-14 win for Gophers

MINNEAPOLIS — Seth Green ran for two short touchdowns, including the game-winning 3-yard score late in the fourth quarter, and Antione Winfield Jr. sealed the game with an interception off a trick play in the end zone as Minnesota held off Fresno State 21-14 on Saturday night.

One first-and-goal from the 4 with 1:18 to play, Bulldogs quarterback Marcus McMaryion handed off to fullback Josh Hokit, who floated a pass toward Jared Rice in the corner of the end zone. But Winfield reached back with both hands, snagged the ball and somehow got his foot down in bounds for the touchback.

“I saw the ball come over and I just went high up under the ball,” Winfield said, who added he thought he was beat on the play.

Gophers (2-0) true freshman Zack Annexstad completed 16 of 26 passes for 175 yards, but struggled to find a rhythm after losing starting running back Rodney Smith to a first-quarter injury.

Despite being limited, Annexstad made his biggest throw of the night to convert on third-and-9 in the fourth. With all momentum with the Bulldogs (1-1), Annexstad scrambled right, came back left and threw high across his body to Tyler Johnson, who made the spectacular 13-yard catch on the sidelines to keep the drive alive.

“If we don’t make that play, who knows how that game turns out,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said. “Because up until that point, it was the most important play of the game, period. Because it was the next play and it changed the whole outcome.”

The Gophers caught an extra break on the play when the officials hit the Bulldogs with a 15-yard sideline interference penalty, and Green scored the winning touchdown five players later, and even added a two-point conversion toss to Ko Kieft for some breathing room.

McMaryion threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns, including a 45-yard score to KeeSean Johnson with 8:20 to play to give Fresno State a 14-13 lead. McMaryion also threw a 1-yard touchdown to Rice late in the third.

“I think I left a lot on the field that I could’ve taken advantage of more just by being more true to my progressions and staying within myself in the offense,” McMaryion said.

Emmit Carpenter hit two 50-yard field goals for the second time in his Minnesota career.

Green scored his third and fourth touchdowns of the season after getting two similar short scores last week in their opener against New Mexico State.

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A week after scoring 79 points, the Bulldogs were held scoreless for nearly a full three quarters thanks to a Gophers defense that contained McMaryion into a series of a short-gain tosses all night long.

“I think it gives us something to think about,” McMaryion said. “It’s good that we had to face some adversity and see what our team is made of. Defense kept us in it the whole game, but we shouldn’t have been in the position in the first place.”

Minnesota responded well to a much stiffer challenge after blowing out New Mexico State in their opener, but the loss of Smith could hurt. Smith ran for 153 yards against the Aggies and had 12 yards from scrimmage before injuring his left leg after an 11-yard reception in the first quarter against the Bulldogs. The senior back was helped off the field, putting no weight on his injured leg, but stayed on the sidelines to encourage his teammates. After the game, Fleck did not share further details on Smith’s status.


The Bulldogs face their second Power Five foe in as many weeks when they visit UCLA on Saturday. They’ll play a Bruins team still looking for its first win after getting trounced by No. 6 Oklahoma 49-21.

Minnesota looks to start the season 3-0 for the second straight season when they host Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.