Top five fall semester sports moments

After a successful career at Wisconsin, running back Montee Ball has now plead guilty to a domestic abuse charge and will serve two consecutive 30-day sentences.

Ball sets all-time touchdown record against Penn State

Senior running back and Doak Walker Award winner Montee Ball wasted no time in breaking the all-time FBS touchdown record at Penn State just a week after coming oh-so-close in front of Camp Randall’s student section against Ohio State.

Ball scored from 17 yards out just over eight minutes into the game on a pitch play to his right and tiptoed his final five yards in for the score.

While the record was somewhat hidden by the eventual overtime loss and the fact that it wasn’t broken a week earlier at home against Ohio State, the team unquestionably recognized the achievement.

“It was a really good feeling,” redshirt junior center Travis Frederick said of seeing Ball score the record-breaker following the game. “We really wanted to see it happen last week at home, but for him to break that record is a special moment for him and a special moment for all of us.”

“They made it extremely easy for me,” Ball said of the offensive line after the game. “It would have been sad if I wouldn’t have scored.”

The frustration stemming from the third overtime loss in the team’s previous four games and Ball’s effort in breaking the record a week before against the Buckeyes was especially evident when addressing the media following the game, and understandably so.

“He knew what went into that touchdown today when he got it,” former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. “It is a tremendous accomplishment by him and everyone around him, but it is obviously not as fulfilling as a win would be today.”

Ball admitted during the season that the record was on his mind.

“I think about it maybe twice a day,” Ball said jokingly after practice leading up to the Indiana game on Nov. 10. “It’s in my head, let me say that.”

Although the extent of the pressure relieved from Ball’s shoulders after breaking the record will never be fully understood, it’s safe to say we got a pretty good idea when judging on his performance in Indianapolis, Ind.

After averaging only 2.8 yards per rush on the ground in Lincoln, Neb., on Sept. 29, Ball erupted for 202 yards and three touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship Game.

“We kind of set our minds before the game that this is our game,” Ball said after winning the Big Ten. “The running backs were going to set the tempo.”

Men’s cross country places second at NCAA championships

On Nov. 17, the Wisconsin men’s cross country team trekked down to Louisville, Ky., looking to defend last year’s national title. While the Badgers ultimately came up short in that goal, they did make a return to the podium, earning an impressive second-place finish.

In finishing second, the Badgers strengthened their NCAA record by finishing in the top-three of the competition for the 22nd time. Under head coach Mick Byrne, Wisconsin has never finished lower than seventh at the championships and has earned three straight top-three finishes.

Senior Mohammed Ahmed, a participant is this summer’s London Olympics for Canada, finished up his storied Wisconsin career with an eighth-place finish, posting a time of 29:23.9, the fastest time of any Badger at the competition.

Ahmed also earned All-American honors for the fourth-straight time, the seventh Wisconsin runner to complete the feat. Ahmed was joined on the All-American team by fellow seniors Maverick Darling and Reed Connor, who both ran career-best times en route to 11th- and 12th-place finishes, respectively. Connor and Darling were also the top American-born finishers at the race.

In addition to its second-place finish, Wisconsin also won the Big Ten Championship and the Greta Lakes Regional to cap off a very successful season.

Wisconsin cruises back to Rose Bowl with 70-31 blowout of Nebraska in Big Ten Title Game

The accusations started early and weren’t going to stop on their own. When Wisconsin beat Indiana Nov. 10 to ensure itself a spot as the Leaders Division representative in the Big Ten Football Championship Game, still three weeks and two tough opponents away at the time, the idea that the Badgers were going to “back in” to the game had already started brewing. Two overtime losses later, it was a full-throated chorus from some in the conference and many across college football.

The company line in Madison was that UW couldn’t control the rules, just play by them. One thing the Badgers could control, as it turned out, was the Nebraska defense.

Wisconsin scored on its fourth play of the game. Then it scored on Nebraska’s first play of the game. Given free reign of the field’s perimeters and an invitation to ignore Blackshirt tacklers, the offense scored again and again and again and again. That was just the first half. By the end, 70-31 almost didn’t do the one-sidedness justice.

Senior running back Montee Ball (202 yards, 3 TDs) looked like the Heisman finalist he was in his junior year. Junior running back James White scored as a running back and a quarterback, a weapon of the present, the “Barge” formation.

Redshirt freshman running back Melvin Gordon announced his arrival and also gave a glimpse into the future with 216 yards on just nine carries.

A defense that has done yeoman’s work all year was finally rewarded with an offensive performance to match. The win redeemed a Sept. 29 loss to the Cornhuskers blamed largely on offensive stagnation. More importantly for the Badgers, it reaffirmed their status as the champions of the league.

The questions will continue. It’s already been said that Stanford deserves better than a five-loss team. It’s been said UW is the worst Rose Bowl team in the 99 years of the event. It is a fact they’ll be the first with five losses on their resume. Wisconsin didn’t have five losses in 1994, but it was called the worst team in the game’s history. As Barry Alvarez, now the interim head coach, said Thursday, “there was at least one worse,” after that team beat UCLA 38-31.

Some will say this third trip in as many years carries an asterisk. If that’s what the Badgers get for laying a beat down on Nebraska, I’m guessing they’ll gladly deal with it.

Wisconsin women’s hockey team makes debut at LaBahn Arena against Bemidji State

In the spectacle of college athletics, the opportunity rarely presents itself for a program to unravel a brand-new, state-of-the-art arena, as most simply add on to an already established venue. However, this scenario held true for the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team this year, as it made the move from the Kohl Center to LaBahn Arena.

As Brian Fantana said on Anchorman, the mood was tense Oct.19 for opening night at LaBahn. It was hard not to get chills down your spine during the pre-game festivities, as the program’s four national championships from 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011 were presented on the ice with captains and assistant captains of the respective championship-winning teams receiving a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd.

Also, it could not have been more fitting, Wisconsin played its 500th career game in the opening of LaBahn. While there were cheers and roars for the various pre-game festivities, the game presented little of those, as the high-octane Wisconsin offense was completely shut down by the stingy Bemidji State defense, resulting in a devastating 1-0 loss.

Was there was too much hype surrounding the opening, causing the Wisconsin skaters to feel a wrath of pressure to perform for the Wisconsin faithful?

After the Beavers claimed a 1-0 lead after the first period in the series finale Sunday afternoon, the crowd and members of the media, including myself, began to grow restless, as the Badgers were held in check once again.

However, the mood would change for the better. Late in the second period—the 13:56 mark, to be exact—2012 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner and senior forward Brianna Decker corralled the puck along the boards and swiftly deked past defenders en route to a back-handed goal for the first-ever goal in the LaBahn Arena. As the horn sounded and the crowd celebrated like the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, Decker was fist pumping and was swarmed by her teammates in the process.

As the floodgates opened for Wisconsin, it would be negated by a late surge from Bemidji State with under a minute left in regulation to force overtime.

After neither team could generate any offense in the overtime period, the game would be decided in a shootout. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions. However, Wisconsin would not be denied, winning the shootout, 2-0, and claimed an extra point in the conference standings.

As I left the arena after post-game interviews, I paused and realized I had witnessed a piece of Wisconsin athletics history, which is why this spectacle was one of the top—five moments of the semester.

Badgers set team record for rushing yards vs. Indiana

The Badgers regained faith in their run game about as quick as possible by rushing for a school-record 564 yards against Indiana just one game after gaining only 19 net yards on the ground in a 16-13 overtime loss to Michigan State at Camp Randall.

The rushing explosion—which also marked the most rushing yards by a Big Ten team since 1975—came at an opportune time for redshirt senior quarterback Curt Phillips, who was seeing his first live action since the 2009 season.

He attempted only seven passes and completed four of them for 41 yards and a touchdown in the 62-14 massacre.

“When you’ve got guys running like that, it doesn’t really matter who’s playing quarterback,” Phillips said after the game.

The win also clinched a spot in the Big Ten Championship game.

“I rattled off a bunch of BCS teams that are in the thick of it that are 6-3 or less than us, and I wanted to remind them that teams either quit, or they battle forward,” former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said in his postgame press conference. “Obviously they answered the bell today.”

Senior running back Montee Ball rushed for 198 yards and three touchdowns on only 27 carries, moving him into 2nd place on the all-time FBS touchdown record. His 49-yard scamper midway through the third gave the Badgers a 38-7 lead.

Right behind him were running backs James White and Melvin Gordon. White, a junior, needed only 14 carries for his 161-yard performance, which included two rushing scores of over 50 yards. Gordon ran for 96 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.

The ridiculous rushing total could be partially attributed to the offensive line’s ambitious goal of rushing for 400 yards. But Ball was in on the secret.

“I went in their room and watched film in their room because ours was locked,” Ball said following the game. “I saw their goals on a piece of paper. I’m glad we hit that mark.”

The three-touchdown performance also set up a chance for Ball to break the FBS record in front of his home crowd the following week against Ohio State. Although Ball only ended up tying the record in the overtime loss, the performance against Indiana marked a performance unlike most others.

“We were laughing, joking around on the sideline,” Ball said of when he heard they broke the school record. “It felt great.”

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