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Gophers end 14-year losing streak to Wisconsin with 37-15 win for Paul Bunyan’s Axe – Twin Cities

MADISON, Wis. — When you haven’t done something for 14 years, the reaction can be frenetic, the final plans not fully fledged. That’s what happened when the Gophers’ agonizing losing streak to Wisconsin, which dated to 2003, ended with a complete 37-15 win Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

Players sprinted onto the field to grab Paul Bunyan’s Axe in the south end zone before the final seconds ticked off the clock, and they reveled with it on the field for the next 27 minutes. After a four-hour bus ride back to Minneapolis, ad hoc plans for a rally were thrown together when they pulled into Minneapolis, and the Axe’s final resting spot is not yet solidified within the U’s new Larson Football Performance Center.

In the moments after the game, the six-foot rivalry game trophy was passed around. Gophers players sprinted to the north end zone to mock-chop down goal posts like they had seen the Badgers do time and again. Minneapolis’ Tyler Johnson brought it back to the south end zone, where some Gophers fans eagerly waited to touch it. Players went back into the locker room to grab their phones to share it on social media.

This is all new to Minnesota because the last time the Gophers beat the Badgers, smartphones weren’t ubiquitous and none of the euphoric scenes they capture could be shared on Snapchat or Twitter  — a fact the Badgers rubbed in the Gophers’ noses in a tweet this week.

“We’re in Wisconsin and we got all the Gopher fans back home, it’s something, you want them to share the moment with them because there have been a lot of people riding with us through the ups and the downs,” Gophers defensive end Carter Coughlin said.

The world was a lot different, and sans many cell phones, the last time the Gophers won in Madison in 1994, and rotary phones were commonplace when the U win posted a win over Wisconsin by a similar margin, a 35-10 victory in 1969.

“We can give the state of Minnesota something to be really thankful for on this Thanksgiving weekend,” said Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, who earned his first Big Ten road win in his ninth attempt.

Minnesota, a 10-point underdog, led the entire game and benefited from four takeaways that were turned into 24 points. The exclamation point was started by a pair of Minnesotans in the fourth quarter.

With Minnesota failing to add to a 23-7 lead and make it a three-score game on Emmit Carpenter missed 28-yard field goal, Eden Prairie native Coughlin’s strip sack of Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook was recovered by Plymouth’s Thomas Barber. The Gophers sideline went bonkers.

On the next play, Bryce Williams rushed 23 yards for the back-breaking score to make it 30-7. Afterward, Badgers fans in the announced crowd of 74,038 headed for the exits, and photographers encircled the Axe, which was tucked behind Gatorade bottles at the 28-yard line on Wisconsin’s sideline.

The win had an added sweetener for Minnesota, which moved to 6-6 (3-6 in Big Ten) and earned bowl eligibility for the first time in Fleck’s second season.

When Williams added a 16-yard touchdown after Chris Williamson was the third Gopher to intercept Alex Hornibrook, the Gophers’ fan section busted out a “Row the Boat!” chant. As the Gophers took a knee, they switched to “Ski U Mah!”

Wisconsin (7-5, 5-4) had the advantage of Heisman Trophy candidate running back Jonathan Taylor, but after rushing for a career high 321 yards again Purdue last week, he was held relatively in check. He finished with 120 yards on 19 carries and was kept out of the end zone.

The Gophers defense stepped up without one of their best as linebacker Blake Cashman, who was tied for for second in Big Ten with 101 tackles, was ejected for a targeting call on Badgers punt returner Jack Dunn early in the second quarter.

The Gophers forced the Badgers to turn the ball on downs on their opening drive of the third quarter, and Cashman replacement Julian Huff added a diving interception of Hornibrook. They turned both turnovers into Carpenter field goals from 23 and 42 yards to extend Minnesota’s lead to 23-7 heading into the fourth quarter.

Carpenter, of Green Bay, Wis., admitted he grew up a Badgers fan, but his new home is in Minnesota. “Just to be a part of the game that can flip the script of history and help our program get to where it needs to go means absolutely everything,” he said.

The Gophers led 17-7 at the half, their third straight halftime lead in Madison. The previous two were all-Badgers in the second half as they came back to add more agony to the streak in 2014 and 2016.

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