Gophers spring football game features explosive plays, late drama

Running back Zach Evans and receivers Le’Meke Brockington and Elijah Spencer were top players Saturday.

University of Minnesota football players on the gold team pose for a photo after their 36-34 overtime win over the maroon team in the spring game Saturday, April 22, 2023, at Athletes Village in Minneapolis.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota via St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- The University of Minnesota spring football game Saturday produced last-second drama for a second straight year.

After a field-goal contest ended the 2022 edition, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck had the maroon and gold teams each attempt a two-point conversion to break a 34-34 tie in an ad hoc overtime.

For the maroon squad, quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis and receiver Elijah Spencer couldn’t connect on a jump ball in the corner of the end zone. But gold side running back Zach Evans overpowered two tacklers for the winning points in a 36-34 victory.

Before the TD, Evans had two explosive runs where he juked past a safety. The redshirt freshman finished with 110 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns, according to unofficial stats from Big Ten Network.

“Zach Evans had a heck of day,” Fleck said. “It’s good to have him back healthy and doing some good things. … Instead of just getting tackled for a gain of 12, you saw it, if you make the third-level miss, now it’s a huge run for 70 yards.”


PJ Fleck.jpeg
PJ Fleck

Receivers Le’Meke Brockington and Spencer were two standouts in the passing game. Brockington had eight catches for 191 yards and a touchdown; Spencer had 11 for 133 and a score.

“This team has a potential of being explosive,” Fleck said.

Brockington, Evans and safety Tyler Nubin were named game MVPs. On a trick play, Nubin came out on offense and caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from Cole Kramer. Nubin flashed a peace sign to chasing defenders a la NFL wideout Tyreek Hill on his way to the end zone.

The defenses were limited in blitzing, playing few pass coverages and were put in bad field-positions. Cornerback Kerry Brown and nickel back Jack Henderson had interceptions.

Open to idea

Auburn coach Hugh Freeze suggested earlier this month that spring scrimmages should no longer be intra-squad, in favor of playing against other programs. He suggested Auburn and Alabama play teams such as Troy and Alabama Birmingham.

There is a level of receptiveness from the Gophers to have an NFL-stye joint practice against programs outside of the Big Ten and opponents not on the U’s schedule in the near future. That could be Midwest programs such as Iowa State, Kansas or Kansas State.

It would be a better gauge for progress than some Gophers scholarship starters feasting on walk-ons on the other side of the ball — which was the case at times Saturday.

Under the current format, splitting a roster with the seniors gone and before most of the incoming freshmen arrive can stretch depth at some positions too thin.


Minnesota’s low amount of returning production contributes to only 6.5 projected wins
When the vote to build a new Arizona Coyotes rink in Tempe failed, a big piece of their future decided that NHL hockey can wait another year, and Logan Cooley announced his return to the U of M.
Jordan Howden and Terell Smith had early struggles at Minnesota but developed into pros
Mariano Sori-Marin and Thomas Rush are set to join the Gophers’ best-represented position in the pros
The Gophers football coach and Aggies basketball coach have forged a friendship over last decade. It has produced professional development for both
The Richmond, Virginia, product had more than 30 scholarship offers, but picked the Gophers over his father’s alma mater
Guard from Wayzata led Minnesota in scoring last season with a 15.6-point average
Hot Mic with Dom Izzo from Wednesday, April 12th, 2023.
Kindred High School's Riley Sunram has one more prep football season next fall and fielded double-digit Division I offers before choosing Minnesota.
The Grand Forks Central grad gave up gymnastics and broke the North Dakota high school pole vault record in 2021. Now, he's putting up big numbers as a sophomore at the University of Minnesota

A Gophers-Cyclone scrimmage or joint practice, for instance, will give an idea of where each program stacks up against FBS competition. Fans might flock to the set-up like this.

However, some key players would likely be held out regardless of a new matchup against another school. Nubin, linebacker Cody Lindenberg, No. 1 receiver Daniel Jackson and top tailback Sean Tyler were key players who played sparingly Saturday.

Portal changes

The Gophers need cornerback additions via the NCAA transfer portal before next fall. After Beanie Bishop and Ryan Stapp left the program, Minnesota had only four scholarship players at that spot this spring.

Rush end appears to be another position needing reinforcements. Danny Striggow is the starter, with North Carolina transfer Chris Collins breaking his foot at the start of spring ball and Hayden Schwartz injuring his knee toward the end.

Collins is expected back by June; Schwartz is projected to be out for many months.

Other needs and opportunities to add could shift with the potential for existing players to leave the Gophers now that spring ball is done.


Kaliakmanis developed good chemistry with Spencer, a Charlotte transfer, as the game progressed; they combined for a 21-yard score. Kaliakmanis started slower but finished with 13 of 19 for 188 yards and one passing and one rushing score. Kramer started stronger and ended 11 for 16 for 288 yards and two passing TDs. … The Gophers had 120 former players turn out for an alumni get-together last week. “It was wonderful to have that many people back,” Fleck said on KFXN-FM on Thursday. They plan for a bigger attendance next year. … The Gophers have received commitments from five of the top nine in-state prospects in the 2023 class, but one of the best remaining targets, Rogers defensive lineman Wyatt Gilmore, said he would attend the Oklahoma Sooners’ spring game this weekend. … Minnesota had nearly 100% of players’ families travel for the program’s family night Friday. … Six-foot-6, 325-pound left tackle Aireeontae Ersery took a handoff on the first play of the spring game, gaining four yards. Former tackle Daniel Faalale had his own carries in previous spring games. … Dragan Kesich leads the kicker competition. He made four field goals with a long of 48 yards on Saturday, including two late in a close game.



This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

What To Read Next
Get Local