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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Larsh guts Gophers, celebrates first walk-off winner in style

In a season with plenty of moments Wisconsin (3-3) football players and coaches would love to forget, Collin Larsh delivered one worth remembering against rival Minnesota (3-4) in week nine. 

This year’s Axe Game didn’t carry the national attention that then No. 12 Wisconsin and then No. 8 Minnesota played for last season, but the tension was not lacking at Camp Randall for the annual rivalry matchup regardless of either team’s record. 

“This game truly means something, and you saw that and felt that at the end,” said Wisconsin Head Coach Paul Chryst, who has had to coach through three different quarterbacks this season — Jack Coan, Graham Mertz and Chase Wolf — due to injuries and COVID-19 tracing.

With the Badgers just 13 yards from a victory in the first overtime frame, Larsh was asked to seal the game with a 30-yard field goal attempt. He had already missed his first try of the evening, a 46-yard attempt that drifted right and never had a chance.

“For me, I’ve always said I try and take everything one kick at a time,” Larsh said of his chance at redemption. “Walking out there, gotta do my job and make it.”

Before Larsh could launch a potential game-winner, Minnesota Head Coach PJ Fleck iced him by calling his final timeout. The Wisconsin junior was unfazed by Fleck’s gamesmanship — and even went as far as to say it helped him prepare for the field goal attempt.

“Honestly, I kind of enjoyed that ice,” Larsh said of the Minnesota timeout. “It gets you more time out there, you get a better sense of the wind … Camp Randall is such a stadium where the [wind] swirls so much that you can’t tell until you get out there.” 

Whatever wind analysis Larsh did in those few extra seconds on the field, it worked.

His kick split the uprights perfectly, sending Wisconsin to victory and keeping the Axe in Madison for the second-straight season. Larsh immediately bolted for midfield to be mobbed by his teammates, while doing an “ice in my veins” celebration with his hands.

“I had to put the ice in my veins for a second,” Larsh joked of his post-kick reaction. “Best part of it was just being able to turn around and see my teammates, celebrate with them and get in that pile.”

With three losses in just six games, this was no successful season by Wisconsin football standards. Yet, given the COVID-19 situation which had many Big Ten lineups looking like a revolving door, Chryst said he was proud of how Larsh and Wisconsin’s offense as a whole has held together during the rough stretch.

“It takes everyone,” Chryst said postgame. “Obviously, when you struggle, it can wear not just on the offense but the whole team. You just have to be resilient.”

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Win-loss record aside, Saturday’s walkoff win will be a moment for Larsh to cherish for the rest of his life. While he may have another Axe Game left in his college career, Larsh mentioned that many of his teammates did not — and he knew he could not let them down. 

“This was my first true game winner, so that’s fun,” Larsh said. “Knowing that we could send the seniors out with the Axe, that’s the best part of that.”

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