Gophers Drive 95 Yards to Pull Out 35-32 Win over Georgia Southern
September 14, 2019

After falling behind on runbacks of a fumble and blocked field goal, the Minnesota Gophers found themselves down by four points to the Georgia Southern Eagles with fewer than four minutes left in the game.

After a touchback on an Eagles kickoff that had the Gophers starting a comeback drive at their 25, an incomplete pass, holding penalty, and sack had them facing a third-and-30 at the 5 with under 2:30 left and no time outs. The Georgia Southern defense had been on the field for most of the fourth quarter and was guarding against a long pass, so Tanner Morgan was able to connect with Demetrius Douglas for a 22-yard gain. Morgan found Douglas again for a first down at the 37.

With the offense down to backup running backs Cam Wiley and Bryce Williams (through the earlier departure of Rodney Smith and the absence of Mohamed Ibrahim to injuries), Minnesota stayed to an air attack, punctuated by an occasional scramble by Morgan. Passes to Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman, Chris Autman-Bell, the Gophers got to the 1 plus a half-yard closer as the Eagles were penalized for an illegal substitution. Williams was tackled for a loss at the 2, but Johnson then outleaped Monquavian Brinson (who was also flagged for pass interference) and hauled in the winning touchdown in the far right corner of the end zone with 13 seconds left and a 35-32 victory.

After spotting the Eagles a pair of leads in the first half, the Gophers appeared in control with a touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 28-20 lead and then a fumble recovery on the Eagles 26 midway through the period. Michael Lantz came in for a 36-yard field goal, but it was blocked by Reynard Ellis. Brinson picked the ball up on the left side of the field, dodged a couple tacklers, and ran back and around the scrum to find open space along the right sideline. As he sped past and evaded tacklers on his way to the end zone, a flag flew out, indicating a possible penalty that would bring the play back. However, the penalty was for a sideline infraction as an over-exuberant coach got too close to the play and bumped into an official. The 77-yard touchdown still counted, but it meant the Eagles had to go for the tying two-point conversion from their 18-yard line. Josh Tomlin’s pass was incomplete, and the Gophers retained the lead at 28-20.

Minnesota advanced to midfield on its ensuing drive. But on third down, linebacker Rashad Byrd hit Morgan’s arm as he was passing. The ball went in the air, bounced, and was picked up by Byrd, who ran it 44 yards for a touchdown. Another two-point attempt failed, but Southern Georgia was ahead 32-28 with 3:47 left.

The Minnesota comeback drive, though, kept the Eagles— who had moved up from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) only five years ago—from enjoying only their second win over a Power Five conference team. (Southern Georgia, while still an FCS team, had beaten Florida in 2013.)

The Eagles had capitalized on Minnesota mistakes on the Gophers’ first plays of the game from scrimmage. After Morgan’s pass over the middle was broken up and nearly intercepted by Jay Bowdry, Morgan tried again, looking for Johnson over the middle. This one was picked off by free-safety Kenderick Duncan and returned 27 yards to the Minnesota 21. It took the Eagles only one play to score, as Logan Wright broke through the middle of the line and ran into the end zone.

The Gophers answered quickly as Johnson, on second and 8 from the 27 following a touchback, took a 16-yard pass and, breaking through two converging tacklers, turned it into a 73-yard touchdown.

The Eagles got their biggest offensive play when Tomlin hit Khaleb Hood for a 39-yard pass play to the Minnesota 46. After another first down, the Eagles stalled and settle for a 25-yard field goal from Tyler Bass to retake the lead.

The Gophers got the lead back, culminating a 75-yard drive with a Morgan pass to a leaping Johnson, and added to it in the second quarter after Antoine Winfield forced a fumble, which Braelen Oliver recovered on the Georgia Southern 24. Five plays later Seth Green fought his way into the end zone from the four to give Minnesota a 21-10 lead.

The Eagles cut the lead with a 45-yard field goal from Bass and closed the gap even more after the Gophers were stopped on a fourth-down play at their own 34 with 2:16 left. J. D. King carried three times to get to the 12, and then, on an option, Tomlin kept the ball and dived for the right pylon with 27 seconds left. The point-after brought the Eagles to within 21-20 at halftime and set up the furious final quarter.

The Gophers upped their record to 3-0, after starting the season with close wins over South Dakota State and Fresno State, the latter in overtime. Both their wins at home (South Dakota State being the other) have been over opponents who were double-digit underdogs.

Morgan, despite his mistakes, stayed poised, particularly on the final drive. He was sacked five times but finished with 19 completions in 31 attempts for 289 yards. Georgia Southern relied on its ground game. Tomlin, other than the 39-yard completion, wasn’t a factor with his passing, completing 5 of 9 passes for 75 yards.

The Gophers have a week off before opening their Big Ten schedule, at Purdue on September 28.

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