The Paul Bunyan Axe is back in Madison after the Badgers sealed a decisive 28-14 win Saturday over the Minnesota Golden Gophers with a cohesive team performance on both sides of the ball.
The Badgers reclaimed the Axe after a two-year hiatus and tipped one of the oldest rivalries in FBS college football in favor of Wisconsin, 63-62-8. Junior running back Braelon Allen had two touchdowns and 165 rushing yards to lead his team to victory.
Although they came out on top, the Badgers started slow. Wisconsin’s defense allowed Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis to sail down the field and score on Minnesota’s first drive. Wisconsin has allowed a first-drive score in their last four games.
The Golden Gophers also held the Badgers’ offense to a three-and-out on their first drive. It wasn’t until their second possession that Allen ran the football in for a 5-yard touchdown. Allen has been a positive spark for the team’s offense since he recovered from injury.
The Badgers offense relied heavily on their running game in the first half, and even senior quarterback Tanner Mordecai ran the football. However, it wasn’t until the Badgers went down 14-7 that Mordecai started passing the ball. Mordecai went 4-for-4 on the ensuing possession, ending in a touchdown catch by wide receiver Will Pauling.
On the defensive side, pass interference calls in the first half helped Minnesota stay competitive against the Badgers. The Gophers had three pass interferences called in their favor, all in the first half.
After a back-and-forth first half, the Badgers heated up in the third quarter and scored two touchdowns, putting Minnesota’s postseason dreams further out of reach. Additionally, the defense held the Golden Gopher offense to zero points with an interception and a fumble in the second half, putting a full game together on all ends.
Mordecai ended the season positively, throwing for two touchdowns and 145 passing yards. Allen led the team with two touchdowns, 17 carries and 165 yards — a season high for him as he continues to make big plays for the Badgers. This included a 50-yard run to help the Badgers heat up their offense in the third quarter.
With four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Badgers cornerback Ricardo Hallman picked up his sixth interception to seal the win, something that’s been missing from a full team performance.
Both Wisconsin and Minnesota fans are used to cold weather, and that did not stop them from cheering on their teams Saturday. Fueled by the rivalry and snow, fans from both borders showed up, but the Badgers snuck away with the win, silencing the home crowd.
With Saturday’s win, the Badgers (7-5) extended their bowl streak to 22 years, the third-longest such streak in college football. For first-year head coach Luke Fickell, the win ends a season plagued with injury and rookie quarterbacks on a high note.
The rosy cheeks and frozen fingers were worth it this time. The Badgers will hear their postseason fate on Dec. 2 when the selection show takes place.