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Minnesota survives 23-16 nail-biter to keep the Axe out of Wisconsin

Back-to-back wins over the Badgers for the first time since 1993-94

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4) mounted a fourth comeback and survived a rally attempt by the Wisconsin Badgers (6-6) in the final minutes to retain Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the second straight year with a 23-16 victory over their border rival at Camp Randall.

This is first time Minnesota has won back-to-back games over Wisconsin since 1993-94.

The difference in the game was a go-ahead 45-yard touchdown strike from redshirt freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis to redshirt freshman wide receiver Le’Meke Brockington with less than four minutes left in the game, breaking a 16-16 tie.

On the Badgers’ next drive, Justin Walley intercepted a deep pass from Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz and returned it to the Badgers’ 35-yard line. But the Gophers failed to capitalize, giving the ball back to Wisconsin with 1:48 left on the clock after Matthew Trickett’s 48-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright. The game took a chaotic turn from there.

Two plays into the drive, Mertz left the game after being tackled by Braelen Oliver. Back-up quarterback Chase Wolf took over and led the Badgers down to the 5-yard line, aided by a defensive pass interference penalty against Walley. But then Wisconsin was flagged for holding, followed by a false start. After an incomplete pass, the Badgers were flagged for back-to-back false starts. Backed up to the 30-yard line on 2nd & Goal with 0:15 left on the clock, Wisconsin failed to reach the end zone on their next three plays, sealing the win for Minnesota.

Wisconsin took a 3-0 lead with a 40-yard field goal on the game’s opening drive. Minnesota responded with a scoring drive of their own, driving 81 yards in 10 plays. Athan Kaliakmanis was 4-for-4 for 41 yards through the air on the drive, including a six-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Jackson on 3rd & Goal to give the Gophers a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. He would finish the game 19-of-29 for 319 passing yards and two touchdowns.

After the Minnesota defense forced a three-and-out, the Gopher offense was sparked by a 42-yard first down connection between Kaliakmanis and Dylan Wright. Eventually faced with 4th & 1 at the Wisconsin 11-yard line, head coach P.J. Fleck opted to go for it, but a quarterback sneak with Kaliakmanis was ruled short of the first down. The call on the field stood even after Fleck challenged the spot. The Badgers took advantage of the turnover on downs, driving down to the Minnesota 24-yard line for a 43-yard field goal to cut the Gophers’ lead to 7-6.

With less than five minutes before halftime, Mohamed Ibrahim was able to gain 14 yards on 3rd & 12 at Minnesota’s own 16-yard line to keep the drive alive. Four plays later, Kaliakmanis threaded a 26-yard pass to Jackson between two defenders in Cover 2 to get the Gophers inside Wisconsin territory. The drive stalled inside the 10-yard line, where Matthew Trickett made a 25-yard field goal as time expired, extending Minnesota’s lead to 10-6 at the break.

The Gophers struggled coming out of the locker room in the third quarter. Minnesota was able to extend their lead to 13-6 with a 50-yard field goal on their opening drive, but the Badgers matched them with a 36-yard field goal of their own. The Gophers proceeded to go three-and-out, setting up Wisconsin to take the lead on a six-play, 54-yard scoring drive capped by a go-ahead touchdown on a six-yard reverse by Chimere Dike. Trailing 16-13, Minnesota traded punts with Wisconsin before finally tying the game on a 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.