Gophers keep Paul Bunyan's Axe after late touchdown seals victory
Win marks 1st time Minnesota has won the Axe in consecutive years since 1993-94
MADISON, Wis. — The Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe was a nip-and-tuck, field-goal fest with six successful kicks between the Gophers and Wisconsin on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Then Minnesota struck gold.
Quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis hit Le’Meke Brockington on a slant and the freshman receiver outraced the Badgers secondary for a 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Minnesota’s 23-16 win meant the Gophers have kept hold of Paul Bunyan’s Axe in consecutive years for the first time since 1993-94. The Gophers were able to parade the Axe around their rival’s stadium for the second time after 2018. They lost in overtime in 2020.
But that long touchdown pass led to more drama.
After Brockington’s touchdown, Justin Walley intercepted Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz, which should have contributed to sealing a win. But, Matthew Trickett’s 48-yard field goal hit off the upright with less than two minutes left.
Mertz was injured and backup QB Chase Wolf drove Wisconsin to Minnesota’s 5-yard line. The Badgers had four straight penalties to move them back to the 30. Wolf’s last-second heave to the back of the end zone fell incomplete.
Coming off a gut-punch 13-10 loss to Iowa last week, Minnesota improved to 8-4, (5-4 Big Ten) and Wisconsin fell to 6-6, (4-5).
Star running back Mo Ibrahim was held in check after eclipsing 100 yards in every game this season, including more than 200 against Iowa last week. The Badgers sold out to stop Ibrahim, who is playing hurt, and kept him to 70 yards on 27 carries.
Kaliakmanis had his best game yet. The redshirt freshman completed 19 of 29 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns.
Wisconsin took a 16-13 lead in the third quarter with a 9-yard touchdown on a reverse to receiver Chimere Dike, but the damage was done earlier on that third-quarter drive.
A chop-block penalty on Wisconsin set back their drive back to first-and-25 but Minnesota allowed them to convert. Then linebacker Donald Willis bit on the play fake and allowed a 28-yard completion.
Trailing 3-0 after the opening drive, the Gophers ended a drought of four full games without a passing touchdown when Athan Kaliakmanis zipped a pass to Daniel Jackson on a 6-yard slant in the first quarter.
Kaliakmanis was a perfect 4-for-4 passing on the opening drive, with tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford incorporated early with two receptions for 31 yards.
On their second drive, Minnesota drove to Wisconsin’s 11-yard line and went for it on fourth-and-1. Kaliakmanis’ sneak was ruled short for a turnover on downs.
Wisconsin then drove 65 yards to kick its second field goal of the game and cut Minnesota’s lead to 7-6.
Minnesota ended the half with a 13-play, 75-yard drive. Instead of going for it again on fourth-and-2 from Wisconsin’s 7, Fleck opted for a 25-yard field goal and a 10-6 halftime lead.
This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.