Goph-busters: Wisconsin keeps Axe

first_imgBRYAN FAUST/Herald photoRanked for the first time in 2006 and broadcast on national television against their rival, Wisconsin made a resounding statement Saturday.As the day’s featured morning game across the country, the 116th edition of the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry was hardly a competitive one, as the No. 25 Badgers (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) easily manhandled the Golden Gophers (2-5, 0-4) with a 48-12 victory over their sinking Border Battle nemesis. The lopsided win lifted the Badgers four spots in the AP poll to No. 21.With the victory, UW became bowl-eligible, ensuring a 13th game will be added to the schedule for late December or, if the Badgers can continue their potently balanced play, early January. The announcement of UW’s accomplishment drew a roar from the crowd of 82,010, most of whom stayed until the very end of the annual Homecoming game.”I really emphasized that playing here in Camp Randall, that this place would be the most electric it had been to our guys this year,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “I know because of homecoming and the alumni that are back, they were ready to have a good crowd out there.”Wisconsin ensured Paul Bunyan’s Axe would remain in Madison for the third consecutive year with the help of an offense that saw contributions from several different players. P.J. Hill continued his stellar rookie year with 164 yards on 25 carries, adding two more touchdowns to bring his season total to 11 scores on the ground.Hill said he thoroughly enjoyed his first taste of the oldest rivalry in all of college football and spoke of his initial shyness to take possession of the Axe.”It was pretty exciting for me. I went over there with 1:45 left, just to stand by the Axe,” Hill said. “I said, ‘Guys, can I put my hands on it?’ because now I’m a part of it. It was a great victory lap.”Hill eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the season on his 172nd carry of 2006 and was able to do it in front of the home crowd thanks to some helpful information from his teammates.”Coach tried to take me out a little early, before I hit the 1,000-yard mark,” Hill said. “I was like, ‘Coach, I need about three more carries.’ A couple of players on the sideline told me how many yards I needed to get, so I was like, ‘Well, might as well get it this game.'”John Stocco, a Minnesota native and the winning quarterback in each of the Badgers’ last three wins over the Gophers, threw a career-high four touchdowns on 12-of-19 passing with 193 yards.Stocco was removed from the game in the middle of the fourth quarter, and promptly stood right by the Axe, hungry to carry it around for one last time with his teammates.”Being a senior, last crack at them, it just feels great to keep that Axe right where it belongs,” Stocco said.The Badgers struck first, just 95 seconds in, when defensive end Jason Chapman hit Gopher running back Amir Pinnix from behind, causing the ball to squirt out. Cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu picked up the ball and ran it back 50 yards for the touchdown.Ultimately, the early score appeared to have done the Golden Gophers in, as quarterback Bryan Cupito and his offense never recovered, gaining just 200 yards against a stingy UW defense.”Those kinds of mistakes are very hard to overcome,” Minnesota head coach Glen Mason said of Pinnix’s fumble. “After that play, we just kept struggling.”Ikegwuonu, whose strong cover play has caused his name to be lost in the mix to an extent, was challenged more by Cupito than he had all season, and wasn’t content to settle for the early touchdown. The sophomore and Madison native broke up three passes intended for Minnesota star wideout Logan Payne, who was held to just two catches for six yards, as the Badgers continued a streak of neutralizing big-play receivers.”Playing corner [for] the play-action pass is where you can really test your skills,” Ikegwuonu said. “You got to be on your toes when you play a team like Minnesota, especially in the passing game.”Tight end Travis Beckum had another stellar game as he continues to thrive as one of Stocco’s favorite targets. On the first two plays of the second half, Beckum caught two balls for 81 yards and the score, putting the Badgers up 35-3.Beckum added a second touchdown catch late, and followed it up by running into the concrete wall next to the end zone. Bielema checked on Beckum, who had nothing but words in jest for his coach.”I stayed down for a second and I hit the wall, he asked me if I was OK, and I was,” Beckum said, before revealing, “I just asked him if the wall was OK, just to see a little giggle out of that.”When asked about his emotions over easily dispatching such a bitter rival, Stocco summed it up best.”That was special, our fans did a great job making it a great atmosphere for us, [I] just feel great right now.”last_img

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