MADISON, WIS. – Paul Bunyan’s Axis will spend another year in Minnesota. A pair of redshirt freshmen, Athan Kaliakmanis and Le’Meke Brockington, made sure of that.
Kaliakmanis connected to Brockington for a 45-yard touchdown pass with 3:40 left in the fourth quarter, providing the game-breaking points in the Gophers’ 23-16 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, giving Minnesota the lead. possession of the ax trophy for the second consecutive year for the first time since 1993 and ’94.
Matthew Trickett’s third field goal of the day, a 27-yard shot with 7:58 left, tied the game at 16-16.
Justin Walley intercepted a pass from Graham Mertz and returned it 28 yards to the Badgers 35 with 2:48 left, but Wisconsin had one more chance.
The Badgers got the ball back with 1:48 left after Trickett’s 48-yard field goal attempt hit a post. Wisconsin reached the Gophers’ 5, but a hold call and three false start penalties brought the Badgers back to 30 with 16 seconds left. Mertz’s fourth pass of 25 went incomplete, setting off the Gophers’ mad dash for the axe.
Kaliakmanis completed 19 of 29 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns as the Gophers finished the regular season with an 8-4 record and a 5-4 Big Ten mark. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim rushed 27 times for 70 yards, his 19-game 100-yard rushing streak coming to an end.
On the game-winning drive, which started at Minnesota 29, Kaliakmanis found Daniel Jackson for a 16-yard gain against Wisconsin 44. Two plays later, Brockington made an inside move, carried Kaliakmanis’ pass and split the defense for the decisive TD. .
Mertz went 16-for-27 for 170 yards for Wisconsin (6-6, 4-5), which fell to 4-3 under interim coach Jim Leonhard.
Wisconsin won the toss, opted to receive, and went for 53 yards on 11 plays for a 3-0 lead on Nate Van Zelst’s 40-yard field goal with 9:39 left in the first quarter.
The Gophers responded by rushing for 81 yards in 10 plays for a 7-3 lead on Kaliakmanis’ 6-yard touchdown pass to Jackson at third base. Key to the drive were Kaliakmanis’ 14- and 17-yard completions against Brevyn-Spann Ford, Kaliakmanis’ 23-yard run to Wisconsin 39 in third-and-5, and Bryce Williams’ 11-yard run to the Badgers 10 .
Minnesota’s defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense got the better of it at 26 on a punt. The Gophers remained aggressive, with Kaliakmanis throwing deep to Dylan Wright for a 42-yard gain at Wisconsin 32. The Gophers reached the Badgers 11 and faced fourth-and-first on the first play of the second quarter. Linebacker Jordan Turner stuffed Kaliakmanis for no gain on a quarterback. Gophers coach PJ Fleck challenged the spot, but a video review upheld the call.
The Badgers cut the lead to 7-6 on Van Zelst’s 43-yard field goal. Mertz connected with Keontez Lewis for a 25-yard gain on Minnesota 32 in third-and-8, but the Gophers defense limited the damage by stuffing Mellusi for a 1-yard gain in third-and-2 of 25.
The Gophers got the ball with 4:40 left in the second quarter and went for 75 yards in 13 plays to take a 10-6 lead on Trickett’s 25-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
Practice began with Kaliakmanis being sacked for an 8-yard loss, but Ibrahim’s 14-yard run on third-and-1 of 16 moved the chains. Kaliakmanis had an 11-yard run on the third-and-3 of the 37, then hit a wide-open Jackson for 26 yards at Wisconsin 26. After an 11-yard run from Ibrahim, the drive stalled at the 7.
Minnesota started at 19 on the first possession of the third quarter, and Kaliakmanis came out throwing. He hit Spann-Ford for 11 yards on the first play, took a hard hit from linebacker CJ Goetz’s setter, then found Spann-Ford for a 20-yard gain in which the tight end blasted past a Toronto defender. Badgers. The Gophers reached the Badgers 27 and faced fourth and second. Fleck opted to try for a 45-yard field goal, but the Gophers were called for a false start, backing him up to a 50-yard attempt. Trickett’s kick hit the crossbar and rebounded to give Minnesota a 13-6 lead with 10:59 left in the third quarter.
Wisconsin responded with a 36-yard Van Zelst field goal to cut Minnesota’s lead to 13-9 with 7:58 left in the third quarter. On the nine-play, 57-yard course, Mertz connected with Chimere Dike for 14 yards and Dean Engram for 24 but knocked down two open receivers in the red zone.
The Badgers’ defense forced a three-and-out, setting up the offense at Wisconsin 46. After a personal chop block foul, the Badgers faced first-and-25 but converted it anyway, earning a win 14-yard pass from Guerendo, an 8-yard pass to Dike and a 6-yard pass to Guerendo. Mertz then found wide-open fullback Jackson Acker for a 24-yard gain. Two plays later, Dike, with help from a block from Mertz, moved from the 9 for a 16-13 lead with 3:14 remaining in the third quarter.
The Gophers earned a first down on their next possession, but two sacks from Kaliakmanis forced Minnesota to punt their 24. Wisconsin took over at their 31 with 12:56 left in the fourth quarter.
The Gophers got the ball back with 11:01 left and drove 69 yards to tie the score 16-16 on Trickett’s 27-yard field goal. Achievements for 14 yards to Wright and 19 to Spann-Ford, plus a rough passing penalty on Badgers linebacker Maema Njongmeta, moved the ball to Wisconsin 45. Kaliakmanis then found Jackson, who made a sideline grab spectacular for a 34-yard gain on 12. The drive stalled on 9 when Ibrahim was thrown for a 4-yard loss on third down.
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