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Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Coach P.J. Fleck on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, held up the winning game ball from Saturday's upset of Penn State before handing the ball to Gov. Tim Walz. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

After Gophers' upset of Penn State, Fleck offers a handoff and a thank-you to fans

MINNEAPOLIS — Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, Nov. 12, accepted the Minnesota Golden Gophers' game ball on behalf of the people of Minnesota.

The handoff comes days after the then-17th ranked Gophers upset the No. 4 pick Penn State Nittany Lions 31-26 at TCF Bank Stadium, making the Minnesota football team 9-0 for the first time since 1904. The win helped boost the Gophers to No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and fueled enthusiasm from fans who swarmed the field after Saturday's game to seize the Governor's Victory Bell.

Gophers Head Coach P.J. Fleck on Saturday thanked the state of Minnesota for filling the stadium with maroon and gold and for making support palpable in the stands and beyond. And he said Saturday he hoped to pass on the game ball to Walz in a gesture of appreciation to the people of Minnesota.

The specific game ball shared with Walz was the football Jordan Howden intercepted in the end zone to effectively clinch the win, Fleck said. Fleck on Tuesday reiterated that appreciation in the Gophers home locker room and he said it was appropriate to share the game ball with the governor.

"When I got here, I said, 'It's going to take the whole state of Minnesota to get the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football back to what it used to be and to restore the traditions of old,'" Fleck said. "We have a lot of work to do, and by no means, governor, are we where we're going to be, but it's a start."

Walz, a former football coach, said he'd noticed excitement around the state about the team and felt confident they could continue their successful season.

"This state's values are being reflected in this team. We could not be prouder of what you've done," Walz said. "We'll display this and make sure as many Minnesotans get this thing around to let them see this. And I think you're right, I think you're headed on to things that someday they'll talk about."

The Golden Gophers are set to take on Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday, Nov. 16, in Iowa City. Walz said he planned to attend the game.