The threat of a winter storm hitting the Twin Cities on Friday and Saturday prompted the Gophers to move up their spring football game two days to Thursday night. And — free from the mess that rain, snow and high winds would create — the Gold and Maroon teams put on an offensive show at TCF Bank Stadium.
Rodney Smith touched the ball six times and amassed 126 yards and a pair of long touchdowns, and true freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad passed for 186 yards and a TD as the Gold team defeated the Maroon team 24-20. But in front of an estimated crowd of 2,500, redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Morgan of the Maroon team showed why he's the likely front-runner to be the starter by leading a touchdown drive in the final 1 minute, 21 seconds of the second quarter and nearly doing so in the final 58 seconds of the fourth.
The game ended with the Maroon at the Gold 19-yard line and Morgan throwing an incomplete pass after getting hit by defensive tackle Sam Renner.
"That wasn't drawn up to have the spring game go down to the last second, last possession. That was a lot of fun," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said.
Morgan completed 18 of 28 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those scores went to junior receiver Tyler Johnson, who made a spectacular one-handed catch for a 33-yard TD with 21 seconds left in the first half and a 23-yarder in the third quarter. He finished with six receptions for 120 yards.
Fleck saw a lot to like — and areas to improve — from Morgan and Annexstad, an early enrollee who went 11-for-18. Most important was their resolve.
"I saw them make really good passes, really good decisions. I saw them make some not-so-good decisions," Fleck said. "What I did see from those two is the responses. … One would take their team down the field, and the other would do the same thing."
The third quarterback who played, sophomore junior college transfer Vic Viramontes, split time with Annexstad with the Gold team but struggled. Viramontes went 1-for-3 for 1 yard, rushed six times for 21 yards, and fumbled twice. His second fumble led to a Maroon touchdown early in the third quarter, and he saw only one more series.
"He's just got to learn how to value that football," Fleck said. "Which he will. He'll get there."
The Gold team scored on its first possession when Annexstad hooked up with a wide-open Smith, who cut back outside and went 61 yards for a touchdown.
"I just went out and had fun," said Smith, showing off the inaugural Goldy's Cup trophy that went to the winners. "There definitely were some guys making plays out there."
Morgan and running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who rushed 19 times for 104 yards, got the Maroon going with a field-goal drive in the first quarter. Smith boosted the Gold lead to 14-3 with a 31-yard TD run in the second. Morgan's first TD pass to Johnson cut the Gold lead to 14-10, and the Maroon went ahead 17-14 early in the third on Johnson's second TD catch.
The Gold scored the winning TD with 58 seconds left on a 1-yard run by Jonathan Femi-Cole. That capped a 15-play, 86-yard drive in which Annexstad went 5-for-7 for 79 yards and had a 14-yard run on third-and-10 to keep it alive. Three completions for 61 yards on the march went to redshirt freshman receiver Chris Autman-Bell.
"The strides they've made in the last three months have really impressed me," Fleck said of his quarterbacks. "We'll keep growing. Every day they just have to continue to get better."