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Badgers punch ticket to Big Ten championship game with defeat of Minnesota

first_imgFor the third time in four years, the University of Wisconsin football team will head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.In a winner-take-all border battle with No. 18 Minnesota for the Big Ten West division title, the No. 14 Badgers (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) came back from an early deficit to win Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 11th straight season, advancing to the Big Ten championship game in the process with a 34-24 defeat of the Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday.Much like their last home game, which came against Nebraska two weeks ago, the Badgers had to battle back as they found themselves in an early 17-3 hole after a Minnesota field goal and two rushing touchdowns from Minnesota’s quarterback Mitch Leidner and running back David Cobb.But after that the Wisconsin defense did not allow the Gophers to score until just over seven minutes were left in the fourth quarter, while the UW offense scored 24 of their 34 points.“We knew it’d be a tough game and we had some adversity and we knew that,” Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon said. “It was the same way against Nebraska but we kept fighting. I knew we would come up with something and some guys would make some plays to get us back in the ball game.”“Overall, again, you look at this football team, adversity strikes and they keep on fighting and battling just like they have all year long,” head coach Gary Andersen said.The Badgers fought through that adversity and finally found the end zone for the first time with under five minutes left in the first half. Quarterback Joel Stave completed a four-yard touchdown pass — that was intended for wide receiver Alex Erickson in the back of the end zone — but was plucked out of the air by Gordon instead and cut Minnesota’s lead to 17-10.Prior to the touchdown pass, Wisconsin got into the red zone for just the second time in the game on a career-long 70-yard pass completion from Stave to Erickson.Following UW’s six play, 80-yard drive, the Badger defense forced their lone turnover of the game after the Gophers were driving into Wisconsin territory just before the half was over. Cobb fumbled a handoff from Leidner and Wisconsin’s Michael Caputo was there to scoop it up on the Wisconsin 30-yard line.With just 18 seconds remaining in the half after the fumble recovery, Stave then completed back-to-back passes to Erickson for 35 and 14 yards respectively, to put the Badgers in field goal range. Freshman kicker Rafael Gaglianone then knocked home a 38-yard field goal that not only pulled UW within four at 17-13, but gave the Badgers some much needed momentum heading into halftime.“I thought the big turning point was when we got the fumble and were able to – with 18 seconds left – go get a field goal in the second quarter,” Andersen said. “It was a big time moment and the offense executed really, really well.”Minnesota was largely able to slow down Gordon in the first half, holding him to 55 yards on 14 carries while Cobb had 16 carries for 95 yards for the Gophers. Stave bounced back from a 1-for-5 start to finish the first half 5-for-10 for 137 yards with the touchdown pass to Gordon. Erickson had 119 yards on just three catches through the first two quarters.After halftime, Wisconsin finally took the lead from the Gophers with 6:20 left in the third quarter. The Badgers went on a 7-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a Corey Clement touchdown run from 28 yards out that put UW on top 20-17. It was Clement’s first carry of the game who was questionable to even play with a lingering arm injury.“I just wanted to come out there and show that I can contribute as well,” Clement said of his touchdown run. “It felt great. It was almost like a dream come true.”Wisconsin pulled ahead even further on their first drive of the fourth quarter. Gordon started the drive with runs of eight and 24 yards before Clement marched the Badgers to the Minnesota one-yard line with runs of five and 31 yards. Gordon finished things off with a one-yard touchdown run and Wisconsin was ahead 27-17 with 10:57 left in the game.But Minnesota would not go away as they answered the Badgers’ scoring drive with a 7-play, 75-yard drive of their own that was capped off by a Leidner two-yard rushing touchdown. The drive was aided by a 53-yard completion on 3rd and three to tight end Maxx Williams. Williams is considered one of the best tight ends in the country but was held to just the one catch Saturday.However Wisconsin would put the game away for good on the ensuing drive after Stave found sophomore wide receiver Rob Wheelwright for a 17-yard touchdown pass that all but booked a trip to Indianapolis next weekend against Ohio State and kept the Axe in Madison once again. It was Wheelwright’s first career touchdown reception and first reception of the season.The Wisconsin defense shook off a slow start and held the Gophers to only seven points in the second half and 119 total yards. Cobb only managed 23 yards in the final two quarters while Leidner went just 3-for-10 for 67 yards.“We have a lot of guys who if someone beats us one time, we’re going to come back,” senior inside linebacker Marcus Trotter who led the Badgers in tackles with 14 said. “That’s really good to have a defense like that. So a lot of guys stepped up.”Overall on offense, Stave finished the game 11-for-18 for 215 yards and two touchdowns while Gordon ran for 151 yards on 29 carries with two total touchdowns. Erickson set a career-high with 160 receiving yards on just five catches.Saturday’s win was the culmination of an up-and-down regular season for the Badgers. After losing the conference opener to Northwestern, Wisconsin has rattled off six straight wins and will take on the Buckeyes next Saturday for a right to be called Big Ten champions.“I think we’ve done a tremendous job of battling back this year and to put ourselves in position to be able to be in a game like this and be able to win a game like this,” Stave said. “And to know that we’re going back to Indianapolis with an opportunity to win a Big Ten championship against a very, very good Ohio State team, it’s exciting.”last_img

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