Minnesota rallies late to beat Wisconsin 23-16, keep Axe
By Steve Megargee
AP Sports Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Athan Kaliakmanis connected with Le’Meke Brockington on a tiebreaking 45-yard touchdown with 3:40 remaining and Minnesota barely hung on in the final minute to beat Wisconsin 23-16 on Saturday.
After an injury knocked Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz out of the game on the Badgers’ final series, backup Chase Wolf drove the Badgers into position for a tying touchdown. A pass interference penalty in the end zone gave Wisconsin first-and-goal from the 5 with 26 seconds left.
But a holding penalty and a false start pushed Wisconsin back to the 20. After Wolf threw an incompletion, two more false starts created second-and-goal from the 30. The game ended with Wolf throwing an incompletion into a crowd of players in the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 25.
Minnesota (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) retained possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which goes to the winner of this annual matchup. The Gophers also tied the most-played Football Bowl Subdivision rivalry — these two Big Ten foes have been facing each other since 1890 — at 62-62-8.
“Both teams played incredibly hard,” Minnesota coach P.j. Fleck said. “Both had a chance to win. We were just able to make one more play than they did.”
Wisconsin (6-6, 4-5) fell to 4-3 under interim head coach Jim Leonhard, who was promoted from defensive coordinator after the firing of Paul Chryst. Minnesota, which defeated Wisconsin 23-13 last year, has beaten the Badgers in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1993-94.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity and we’ve learned a lot about this team,” Leonhard said. “There are certain things I don’t like. We need to improve. We need to win games, flat-out. That’s our job. That’s our goal here, to be competitive in the Big Ten and win football games. We’ve gotten inconsistent results.”
Minnesota was facing second-and-11 when Brockington ran a slant route, caught Kaliakmanis’ pass in stride inside the 35 and outran Wisconsin’s defense to the end zone for his first career touchdown.
Kalikamanis ended up 19 of 29 for 319 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in his third game filling in for Tanner Morgan, who is out with an upper-body injury. Brevyn Spann-Ford, Dylan Wright and Daniel Jackson combined to catch 17 passes for 267 yards.
Wisconsin, which had come back from a 13-6 deficit to take a 16-13 lead late in the third quarter, couldn’t rally a second time.
Minnesota’s Justin Walley picked off a Mertz pass and had a 28-yard interception return to put the Gophers in position for a game-clinching score, but Matthew Trickett’s 48-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the right upright with 1:48 left.
That set the stage for Wolf’s comeback attempt.
This game shaped up as a duel between two of the nation’s top running backs in Minnesota’ Mohamed Ibrahim and Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
Allen missed Saturday’s game after injuring his ankle a week earlier in a 15-14 victory at Nebraska. Ibrahim took a big hit in pass protection on Minnesota’s opening series and finished with 27 carries for 70 yards, the first time this season he’s been held below 100 yards.
Minnesota found a way to win anyhow.