Gophers end long losing streak to Wisconsin to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe, gain bowl eligibility
MADISON, Wis. - Five-thousand, one-hundred, thirty-two days. Or roughly 123,168 hours, if you prefer.
Thats how long Wisconsin had held Paul Bunyan Axe since winning it from the Gophers back on Nov. 6, 2004.
But not anymore.
The Axe is going back to Minneapolis for the first time since the Gophers won it in 2003 after Minnesotas 37-15 victory over the Badgers in front of 74,038 on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
When the final seconds ticked off, the Gophers sprinted to the end zone and began the celebration with the Axe. They chopped that goal post, the sprinted to the other end to whack that one in front of the Wisconsin marching band.
In ending Wisconsins 14-year hold on the trophy that goes to the winner of the border rivalry, the Gophers also secured bowl eligibility in coach P.J. Flecks second year on campus.
Led by Mohamed Ibrahims tough rushing for 121 yards, a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown by Demetrius Douglas, three field goals by Emmit Carpenter and a defense that forced four turnovers, the Gophers (6-6, 3-6 Big Ten) won a conference road game for the first time under Fleck. And Minnesota won at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since 1994.
And they did it going away, skunking the Badgers 20-0 in the second half until Alex Hornibrooks touchdown pass to Danny Davis with 1:12 left.
The Gophers took advantage of Wisconsins mistakes throughout the game.
On its first possession, Wisconsin (7-5, 5-4) drove 61 yards to the Gophers 13-yard line in 13 plays, but Rafael Gaglianones 31-yard field-goal attempt was wide right. Hornibrook completed a pair of third-down passes to keep the drive alive, and Taylor rushed six times for 35 yards on the drive.
The Gophers responded by driving 65 yards in 10 plays to take a 3-0 lead on a 34-yard field goal by Emmit Carpenter with 2:37 left in the first quarter. Morgan had completions of 16 yards to Chris Autman-Bell, 12 to Johnson and 17 to Rashod Bateman before the drive stalled with a 2-yard gain on third-and-5 from the 17.
Wisconsin drove to the Minnesota 44, but the Gophers forced the Badgers to punt after Esezi Otomewos third-down sack. The Badgers downed the ball at the Gophers 5, and Minnesota went three-and-out.
On the punt to midfield, linebacker Blake Cashman nailed Badgers punt returner Jack Dunn just as he caught the ball. Officials called targeting on the Gophers leading tackler, and a review upheld the call, resulting in the seniors ejection from the game. That was a huge blow, because Cashman has made big play after big play all season. He had 20 tackles last week against Northwestern and was named Big Ten co-defensive player of the week.
Wisconsin took over at the Gophers 39, but Minnesotas defense came up big. Facing third-and-8 from the 26, Hornibrook threw into coverage and Gophers defensive back Coney Durr intercepted the pass and returned it 25 yards to the 41.
On the first play of the possession, Morgan connected with Johnson for a 28-yard gain to the Wisconsin 31. Facing third-and-6 from the 27, Morgan spun out of potential sack and gained 5 yards to the 22. After a timeout, Seth Green dove forward 3 yards for the first down.
On third-and-2 from the 11, Green was given credit for a 1-yard gain when he appeared to get 2. The play was reviewed, and officials made it fourth-and-inches from nearly the 9. Green, in at Wildcat QB again, handed off to Ibrahim, who raced left untouched to the end zone for a 10-yard TD run and 10-0 Gophers lead with 2:21 left in the half.
In flash the Gophers made it 17-0 with 1:05 left in the half on Demetrius Douglas 69-yard punt return for a touchdown. The play was set up when a wide-open Badgers receiver A.J. Taylor dropped a third-down pass that would have gained the first down.
The Badgers got the ball back with 1 minute left in the half and answered with an eight-play, 76-yard drive to cut the lead 17-7 on Hornibrooks 7-yard TD pass to a leaping tight end Jake Ferguson with 1 second left.
On its first possession of the third quarter, the Badgers drove to the Minnesota 44 and went for it on fourth-and-4. Carter Coughlin pressured Hornibrook, who threw incomplete. The Gophers took advantage by driving for a 23-yard field goal by Carpenter to make it 20-7 with 7:47 left in the third. Ibrahims 18-yard run and a pass interference penalty on Rachad Wildgoose were key plays on the drive.
Julian Huff, playing in place of Cashman, made a diving interception of a tipped Hornibrook pass at the Minnesota 45. The Gophers cashed that in with a 42-yard field goal by Carpenter for a 23-7 lead with 1:02 left in the third.
The Gophers defense forced a three-and-out on the Badgers next possession, and the third quarter ended before the Badgers could punt. Jump Around played as the stadium swayed, and the Gophers jumped around on their sideline, too. One quarter to go for the Axe.
Minnesota closed the deal by playing keep-away in the fourth quarter. The Gophers got the ball with 14:53 to play and drained 9:16 from the clock with a 15-play, 55-yard drive. Though Carpenter missed a 28-yard field-goal attempt, the Badgers had only 5:37 with which to work.
Wisconsin didnt have the ball long. On second down, Carter Coughlin sacked Hornibrook, who fumbled. Thomas Barber pounced on the ball at the Badgers 23. On the next play, Bryce Williams sprinted 23 yards for a TD and 30-7 lead with 4:56 to play.
After another Hornibrook interception, Williams added a 16-yard TD run with 2:31 to play, as the Gophers celebrated the rout.