Gophers take back Axe, beat Wisconsin 37-15
Demetrius Douglas returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown, Minnesota’s defense held up on the road and the Golden Gophers ran away from Wisconsin for a 37-15 win on Saturday to snap a 14-game losing streak in the rivalry and reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Mohamed Ibrahim ran for 121 yards and a 10-yard touchdown run on 26 carries for Minnesota (6-6, 3-6 Big Ten), which became bowl eligible for the first time under second-year coach P.J. Fleck.
The Gophers took a page from the Badgers’ playbook by pounding away on the ground in the second half. Bryce Williams ran for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, both coming on drives after turnovers by Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
A memorable night for Minnesota was made sweeter by beating the Badgers (7-5, 5-4) on the road to take back the Axe for the first time since 2003. They won in Madison for the first time since 1994.
Jonathan Taylor, the nation’s leading rusher, had 120 yards on 19 carries. Hornibrook, starting for the first time since missing two games while in the concussion protocol, threw three interceptions and lost a fumble on a sack.
Minnesota scored 24 points off those turnovers.
What a turnaround for the defense since Joe Rossi took over as interim coordinator following a 55-31 loss to Illinois on Nov. 3. The Gophers have allowed just 49 points in the three games since that blowout.
And they had to play Saturday without Blake Cashman for the majority of the game after the standout linebacker was ejected for targeting on a punt return early in the second quarter. Cashman had 20 tackles last week against Northwestern.
The Gophers took control in a pivotal stretch late in the second quarter that started when Ibrahim ran untouched into the front left corner of the end zone on fourth-and-1 from the 10 with 2:21 left in the half.
Normally sure-handed receiver A.J. Taylor dropped a third-down pass to force the Wisconsin punt returned by Douglas for a 17-0 lead with 1:05 left.
Wisconsin looked like it would take momentum back after Jake Ferguson made an athletic, twisting catch in the end zone on a 7-yard pass from Hornibrook with 1 second left.
But the Badgers couldn’t convert on fourth-and-3 from the Minnesota 44 on the opening drive of third quarter. It was a sign of things to come for Wisconsin.
Minnesota: The Gophers used Wisconsin’s blueprint to pull away in the second half, running for 152 yards on 33 carries and going 5 of 9 on third downs. They held the ball for 21 after halftime and forced two turnovers over the final 5 minutes.
Wisconsin: The loss epitomized an underwhelming season for the offense. Taylor is the team’s best big-play threat, though the Gophers keyed on the star running back early in the game. Hornibrook has been in and out of the lineup for much of the last five weeks because of injury. The passing game sputtered for much of that time whether Hornibrook or backup Jack Coan has been behind center. Hornibrook was 22 of 33 for 189 yards and two scores.
Both teams await their bowl destinations. Representatives from the Citrus, Holiday and Pinstripe Bowl were at the game.
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