The Winner Wore White
August 30, 2018

The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team opened the 2018 season with a resounding 48-10 victory over the New Mexico State Aggies.

Freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad passed his first test with 16 completions for 220 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. Senior running back Rodney Smith rushed for 153 net yards on 24 carries.

After a shaky start that saw the Gophers go three-and-out twice, Annexstad engineered a 50-yard drive after a Thomas Barber interception. Annexstad hit Tyler Johnson with a seven-yard completion in the end zone for a 7-0 Minnesota lead. A series of blunders followed with an Annexstad fumble with NMSU’s Terrill Hanks recovering at the Gopher 12-yard line. Aggie quarterback and junior college transfer Matt Romero quickly hit Isiah Lottie in the end zone with a touchdown pass that eventually tied the score.

Things got worse as Dylan Brown made good on a 45-yard field goal attempt, and the underdog Aggies took a 10-7 lead. In 2011, fledgling Gopher coach Jerry Kill made his home debut against New Mexico State and walked away with a stunning 28-21 defeat.

Located in Las Cruces near the Mexican border, NMSU is pretty much the orphan of the collegiate football world. Expelled from the Sun Belt Conference due to geography concerns, this university was forced into independent status, driving its schedulers crazy in their attempts to secure 12 games. Fellow independent schools Notre Dame, Army, and Massachusetts weren’t interested. Brigham Young bit, but only if the game was to be played in Provo. The last independent asked was Liberty, new to FBS football and equally frustrated in scheduling opponents. The end result was a home-and-home agreement with NMSU playing Liberty on October 6 (home) and November 24 (away).

Wyoming was a late addition to the schedule with the stipulation that the game be played on August 25, only five days prior to traveling to Minneapolis for an August 30 meeting with the Gophers.

Disorganization can be a common thread in Las Cruces, as evidenced by NMSU being unable to come up with road uniforms for the game with the Gophers. As a consequence, Minnesota wore white at home for the first time since 1950.

Early season games can be tough enough even without two August games, but this was the challenge faced by the Aggies, who fell to Wyoming by the score of 29 to 7, rushing for minus nine net yards. To say that the bedraggled Aggies were expected to provide little resistance to the Gophers was a bit of an understatement. Yet, here we were with the score New Mexico State 10, Minnesota 7.

“We have to learn how to start games faster,” mused Gopher coach P.J. Fleck. His team responded with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to make it 14-10, and Minnesota was off to the races.

The Aggies soon wilted under Gopher pressure and would not score again. A wildcat formation resulted in a Seth Green three-yard touchdown run (his second), and it was 21-10. Antoine Winfield returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-10, and with 57 seconds left in the half, Annexstd connected with Johnson for a 33-yard touchdown reception.

The second half dragged on into the evening hours with the tired Aggie players mounting little on offense while limiting the Gophers to a pair of Emmit Carpenter field goals (he also missed one). Subs finished the game with reserve running back Bryce Williams rushing for a fourth-quarter touchdown.

Annexstad and his brother Brock are from Norseland, Minn., which could very well be a mythical land of dragons and unicorns, since the town doesn’t exist, according to the official 2018 highway map. Zack won the starting job over redshirt Tanner Morgan. He appeared poised Thursday night, making completions to five receivers.

“We ran a lot of plays,” Fleck said after the game, “and got to use two quarterbacks.

“Our team is becoming selfless. They’re having fun. We want to be better as a team, offensively, defensively, and on special teams.”

The rest of his remarks were a jumble of the usual banalities press box veterans are accustomed to hearing from the coach.

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