Badgers survive another thriller in border battle
Shame on you.
Victories in this longstanding rivalry between the University of Wisconsin and Minnesota rarely come without a cost, regardless of who claims Paul Bunyan's Axe at the end of the day.
Rather, these games usually are filled with surreal moments, unpredictable plays and momentum swings that test even the strongest of stomachs and wills.
"That is how all our games are," junior left guard John Moffitt said after UW held on for what seemed like the entire fourth quarter to secure an entertaining 31-28 victory over the Gophers in the teams' Big Ten Conference opener Saturday. "We knew it was going to be like that, down to the wire.
"It's kind of a tradition."
Chapter 119 in this rivalry was played in front of a sellout crowd of 50,805 at TCF Bank Stadium. The partisan Minnesota crowd saw Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0) and the Gophers (3-2, 1-1) combine for five touchdowns in the final 19 minutes 33 seconds.
The Badgers have been forced to hang on in the fourth quarter or overtime in four games this season. They didn't secure their sixth consecutive victory in this series until defensive end O'Brien Schofield sacked Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber and linebacker Chris Borland recovered the fumble at the Gophers' 24 with 30 seconds left.
"I think we won that game like three times in the fourth quarter," junior strong safety Jay Valai said. "The next thing I know I had to loosen the tie a little bit."
Wisconsin, behind the play of a determined offensive line and the impressive running of John Clay (32 carries, 184 yards, three touchdowns), twice in the fourth quarter appeared to be cruising to a double-digit victory.
When quarterback Scott Tolzien, who regrouped impressively after a first-quarter interception and a third-quarter fumble, and tight Lance Kendricks hooked up for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 11:51 left, UW had a 24-13 lead.
Then when tailback Zach Brown lost a fumble at the Gophers' 12 with UW setting up for a field goal, cornerback Marcus Sherels scooped up the loose ball and raced 88 yards for a touchdown with 6:50 left. After a two-point conversion pass the lead was 24-21.
"I was turned around talking to our field-goal unit," coach Bret Bielema said. "When I saw the reaction of the crowd I knew it wasn't a positive play for us. I turned around and that guy was streaking. We'll go back to some ball security (work) with Zach Brown."
When Clay capped an eight-play, 74-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, the lead was 31-21 with only 3:00 left.
The Gophers drove 80 yards in three plays_thanks largely to pass plays of 40 and 38 yards_to pull within 31-28 on Duane Bennett's 1-yard run. Fittingly, that came after Wisconsin was penalized half the distance to the goal for having 12 men on the field as the staff tried to change personnel groupings. The call wiped out an end-zone interception and 58-yard return by linebacker Mike Taylor.
"I knew we were going to go through some momentum swings today," Bielema said. "I can't say enough about the resiliency of this team. We tend to make things a little more difficult than they need to be."
When UW recovered the onside kick but failed to run out the clock_Sherels broke up a third-down pass to Kendricks_the Gophers took over at their 5 with no timeouts and 1:43 left.
Then when Weber completed passes to convert a third-and-10 play and a fourth-and-16 play, the Gophers had the ball at their 34 with 42 seconds left.
TCF Bank Stadium was roaring.
With UW in its 3-3-5 alignment, Schofield, linebacker Blake Sorensen and Borland combined to end the drama.
Sorensen, from Eden Prairie, Minn., got loose and pressured Weber from the front. Schofield, who finished with two sacks and three tackles for loss, got Weber from behind and forced the fumble.
"I can't say enough about O'Brien Schofield," Bielema said. "He is just playing with unbelievable passion."
The ball eluded Minnesota right tackle Jeff Wills, and Borland dived on it to finally secure the victory.
"I came in from the end," Borland said. "I saw the ball on the ground. I was contemplating picking it up, but I knew all I needed was to fall on it."
Since Tim Brewster took over the Minnesota program, Wisconsin has won three times_by seven, three and three points.
"The whole game was just back and forth," Moffitt said. "It was just a battle. That is what's great about these games and what I've learned about the trophy games.
"It is to the bitter end."
Did you really think this game would be any different?