Last time they met: “The Axe is back”

The Gophers have a 60-60-8 all time record against the Badgers.

by Nick Jungheim

Final: Minnesota 37, Wisconsin 15

Preceding the 2018 regular season finale, it seemed unlikely that the Gophers would secure their sixth victory of the season to reach bowl eligibility. To do so would mean defeating Wisconsin for the first time since 2003 and hoisting Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since 1994. 

Yet that’s exactly what Minnesota did.

Minnesota claimed a 37-15 victory over the rival Badgers, sparking what would turn into an 11-game win streak. The Gophers defense forced four turnovers, and the offense rode the running back tandem of Mohamed Ibrahim and Bryce Williams who combined for 171 yards rushing.

Redshirt senior Emmit Carpenter opened the scoring late in the first quarter with a 34-yard field goal on the possession following a 31-yard attempt from Wisconsin that was no good. The score was still 3-0 when cornerback Coney Durr recorded the first of three Minnesota interceptions. Nine plays later, Ibrahim ran for a 10-yard touchdown.

It took a mere 1:16 for the Gophers to strike again. Wisconsin’s next drive resulted in a three-and-out, forcing a punt that Demetrius Douglas returned 69 yards to the end zone. The return gave Minnesota a 17-0 lead with 1:05 remaining in the first half.

The Badgers showed a spark in the minute remaining before intermission, marching 76 yards in eight plays for a touchdown to cut the Gophers’ lead to 10 points. After receiving the second half kick-off, Wisconsin had an opportunity to trim its deficit to a single score. Despite driving into Gophers’ territory, Minnesota managed to come up with a stop of the Badgers’ offense on fourth-and-three.

Momentum shifted squarely in Minnesota’s favor following the turnover on downs. The Gophers reeled off 20 unanswered points, beginning with two Carpenter field goals to close the third quarter.

Leading 23-7, Minnesota took over possession once again early in the fourth quarter, embarking on a methodical 15-play drive that chewed 9:16 off the clock. Carpenter missed a 28-yard field goal attempt, but the Gophers quickly regained possession when linebacker Thomas Barber recovered a fumble by Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook at the Badgers’ 23-yard line. 

Williams outraced the entire Wisconsin defense on the very next play, giving Minnesota a commanding 30-7 lead with under five minutes to play. Two plays later, cornerback Chris Williamson intercepted Hornibrook, setting up another Williams touchdown with 2:31 remaining.

Even though Williams scored twice, Ibrahim carried the load for Minnesota’s offense, rushing for 121 yards on 26 carries. Quarterback Tanner Morgan was not called upon often but was efficient when needed, completing 9 of16 passes for 124 yards.

Wisconsin scored one final time in the waning minutes, but that didn’t deter any of the Gophers’ enthusiasm. When the final second ticked off the clock, players rushed to the end zone to retrieve the axe. It was head coach P.J. Fleck’s first Big Ten road win and provided the program with its first signature win under his leadership. With the victory, Minnesota also knotted up the all-time series against the Badgers at 60 wins apiece.

Quotables from the game:

“This is just a big win for our program, big win for the state of Minnesota,” Fleck said. “We’re so thankful we can give the state of Minnesota something to be really thankful for on Thanksgiving weekend.” 

“That moment is just something I will never forget in my entire life,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said. “[I] got really emotional. Probably almost cried — I don’t know — but it’s just such a surreal experience, and I was just very thankful for everybody that was here and the roles that they played.” 

“[I] kind of got a little emotional at the end when I realized, like, this is really going to happen for us,” linebacker Thomas Barber said. “It was just credit to everybody on the team, and special shout out to the guys who are out of state guys.”