Gophers hoist the Axe in Madison after beating the Badgers 23-16

Redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis closes the regular season with a 23-16 win over rival Wisconsin Badgers.

Members of the Gopher football team hold up the axe on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2019, at the football teams indoor practice when the team returned from their win in Madison, Wisconsin.

Courtney Deutz

Members of the Gopher football team hold up the axe on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2019, at the football team’s indoor practice when the team returned from their win in Madison, Wisconsin.

by Theo Franz

The Minnesota Gophers survive in a last-second fashion against the Wisconsin Badgers, winning Saturday’s game 23-16. Their all-time record against the Badgers has now improved to 62-62-8.

With as much of a toss up the series has been, the Gophers lost Saturday’s coin toss to the Badgers. Wisconsin then elected to receive the opening kick.

On the game’s first drive, the Gophers put an emphasis on scoring first and were successful through a couple boot actions. Gophers defensive backs stepped up as the Badgers approached the red zone and made them settle for a field goal.

Athan Kaliakmanis led Minnesota’s first offensive drive with veteran-like composure. His first pass was to the tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford for 14 yards and his 23-yard rush off a quarterback option followed. This set up a quick throw to Daniel Jackson for the touchdown.

Wisconsin failed to continue the scoring volley and gave the ball back to Minnesota after three plays. Kaliakmanis opened the offense’s second drive with a 42-yard bomb to receiver Dylan Wright, who caught it over the head of his defender.

A string of short plays brought the Gophers to a fourth and short situation. Head coach P.J. Fleck took the first quarter break to think about his options. He decided to go for it via quarterback sneak, but the Badgers plugged the middle and made the stop.

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz redeemed the previous drive by exploiting Minnesota’s blown coverages on third down, taking them into Minnesota territory. Wisconsin concluded the drive with another field goal, making it a one point game.

The two teams traded punts and the Gophers got the ball with just over two minutes left in the second quarter. Kaliakmanis found himself in some trouble after taking an 8-yard sack, but his pass to Jackson revived the offense and Minnesota was able to close out the half with a field goal.

Jackson, along with Wright and Spann-Ford, compiled for one of Minnesota’s best receiving games. They accounted for 267 of Kaliakmanis’ 319 passing yards and were targeted in all but three of his passes.

Minnesota opened the second half with an eight play sequence that led to Matthew Trickett’s second field goal, putting them up 13-6. Spann-Ford was used in two of the eight plays, one of them including a clean hurdle over a tackler to keep Minnesota in scoring range.

The Badgers responded with a quick drive of their own. In less than three minutes, Mertz completed back-to-back passes which put Wisconsin in the red zone. He then lost his touch on his ball placement and overthrew his targets on both second and third down. Their subsequent field goal made it a four-point game.

In their next offensive outing, Wisconsin misdirected the Gophers defense twice, once on a 28-yard play action and the other on a reverse that was taken in for six. That touchdown would be their last points scored in the game.

With the Gophers now trailing, the defense took it upon themselves to help the offense win the game. They forced three straight three-and-outs and two turnovers on Wisconsin’s final five drives.

The Gophers put the game in the hands of their redshirt freshman quarterback, and he delivered. Down three, Kaliakmanis was given the green light to continue launching passes deep, an opportunity which Jackson and Le’Meke Brockington benefited from the most.

Jackson made a terrific sideline catch in the fourth quarter that quieted the fans in Camp Randall. His catch set Minnesota up for a field goal to tie the game.

Brockington took a well-placed ball down the middle of the field from Kaliakmanis, sprinted past the secondary and scored. After Trickett’s extra point, the Gophers held a 23-16 lead with just under four minutes to go.

Wisconsin’s first two plays in response to the touchdown only gathered them five yards. On third down, Mertz tested his luck by going deep but was intercepted by Gophers cornerback Justin Walley.

The Gophers offense began to take a more conservative approach in an attempt to run out the remaining time on the clock. The plan backfield and so did their subsequent field goal attempt, placing the Badgers on their own 38 yard line.

Mertz dialed up an 11-yard pass and a 2-yard scramble before getting injured. His backup, Chase Wolf, replaced him for the rest of the game. Wisconsin’s next four plays, which included a pass interference call on Walley, put them five yards away from tying the game.

Despite all the momentum they had to punch it in, their offense collapsed. Wisconsin committed four penalties in a five play span. The Gophers defense stood by and watched the ref move the ball back to the 30. After Wolf’s final throw fell incomplete, the Gophers brought out the ax, headed toward the goalpost and pretended to chop it down in celebration.

The Minnesota Gophers finished the regular season with an 8-4 record and placed fourth in the Big Ten West. This is the first time Minnesota beat Wisconsin in back-to-back games since 1993 and 1994.

Although Mohamed Ibrahim had an unusually quiet game (70 yards on 27 carries), his collected numbers on the season have put him on top of a majority of school rushing records. Kaliakmanis performance earned him his first road win as a starter and solidified his future as the team’s starting quarterback going forward.