Gophers lose sixth straight to Badgers

None of the current football players have won the axe with Minnesota.

Gophers lose sixth straight to Badgers

Austin Cumblad

The situation seemed ripe for a reversal of fortune. The nationâÄôs most-played rivalry. The first Big Ten game in TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota coming off its first win in a Big Ten opener in four years. And yet the outcome Saturday was one that has become all too familiar for the Gophers; another year, another furious effort, another loss to Wisconsin in the battle for Paul BunyanâÄôs Axe, this one 31-28. Minnesota has lost six straight to the Badgers and 13 of the last 15. No current Gophers player has hoisted the coveted rivalry trophy. TheyâÄôve come agonizingly close, just never broken through. A year ago in Madison, the Gophers led 24-17 entering the fourth quarter but a host of late mistakes led to 18 unanswered Wisconsin points and the Gophers could not recover; they lost 35-32. On Saturday, the Badgers stretched their lead to 11 early in the fourth and appeared poised to run away with the game. Minnesota hung around, however, and trimmed the deficit to 3 with 2 minutes and 13 seconds remaining after a three play, 80-yard scoring drive. Junior quarterback Adam Weber and the offense got the ball back at its own 5-yard line 30 seconds later with a chance to drive for a tie or win, but Weber had the ball knocked loose. Wisconsin smothered the fumble and the GophersâÄô comeback effort. Senior Marcus Sherels has seen both sides of the ball in his time at Minnesota. He was a wide receiver as a freshman and sophomore, then switched to cornerback as a junior. HeâÄôs also seen both types of losses to the Badgers. A blowout (48-12) in 2006; a pair of nail-biters in 2008 and 2009. Which is worse? âÄúIt all hurts the same,âÄù Sherels said. Sherels said it feels like something is missing from his career having never knocked off Wisconsin, a sentiment his fellow seniors share. âÄúThatâÄôs something I really wanted to find out,âÄù senior wide receiver Eric Decker said. âÄúWhat it felt like to run across the field and grab the axe and have that moment.âÄù Individually, Decker continued to shine for the Gophers. He had another Saturday when his eight receptions for 140 yards surpassed Ron JohnsonâÄôs career mark of 2,989 receiving yards. Decker now has 3,000 and counting, and each yard will further cement him as the greatest receiver in GophersâÄô history. But without the Axe, itâÄôs a bittersweet moment. âÄúItâÄôs hard to feel good about it because I would have taken a win far over any records or any single accomplishments,âÄù Decker said. The seniors have hardly seen a rivalry trophy of any kind in their four years. No Little Brown Jug (Michigan); no GovernorâÄôs Liberty Bell (Penn State); they took Floyd of Rosedale in 2006, but Iowa reclaimed it a year later. With the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes looming just a few weeks out, Decker is putting the Axe behind him and focusing on the trophies he still has a chance to capture. âÄúThose two games mean just as much,âÄù he said. âÄúAnd we talked about [how] the biggest game is always the next game.âÄù Still, the Gophers readily admit that SaturdayâÄôs loss will sting for some time. âÄúIâÄôve been dreaming about having the Axe, and I feel really bad for the guys that donâÄôt get another shot at it,âÄù Weber said. âÄúI feel really bad for them because itâÄôs something we really really wanted to get. âÄúYeah, this oneâÄôs going to hurt for a while.âÄù