The same scene had played out for 10 consecutive years, with the Wisconsin Badgers grabbing Paul Bunyan’s Axe after defeating the Gophers and pretending to chop down each goal post.
The Gophers were sick of it, so Saturday they took a stand.
They couldn’t stop Wisconsin from winning again — although they were more competitive in this 20-7 loss at TCF Bank Stadium — but they stood right up to the Badgers throughout the postgame celebration.
After a stifling performance by Wisconsin’s defense in the coldest game in the stadium’s five-year history, the Badgers pretended to chop down the west goal post. Then they ran across the field, where the Gophers had gone through their usual post-game ritual of singing “Hail! Minnesota” with the band.
The Badgers tried getting to that goal post, but the Gophers never let them. There was some pushing and shoving for a few minutes, and security got involved before the Wisconsin players finally backed away.
“It’s just a pride thing,” Gophers senior Brock Vereen said. “This is our stadium, and even after the clock hits zero, we still feel the need to protect it. So I don’t think there’s any love lost or anything like that. I think they’d do the same thing.”
Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland actually faced this question: Would the Badgers do the same if the Gophers won the Axe at Camp Randall Stadium?
“I can’t even imagine them winning it,” Borland said. “… I don’t know what we’d do.”
Ouch. Wisconsin’s 10-game winning streak against Minnesota is the longest in a series that dates to 1890.
Borland led another terrific effort by Wisconsin’s defense, which entered the game ranked fifth in the nation in scoring defense, at 14.0 points per game. Borland had 12 tackles, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Minnesota’s only points came on a 39-yard interception return by linebacker Aaron Hill in the second quarter. This was the third straight game the Badgers have held their opponent without an offensive touchdown.
The Badgers led 13-7 at halftime and opened the second half with a 12-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that took seven minutes, five seconds. Joel Stave capped it with a 3-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis.
Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson had a rough day, completing seven of 23 passes for 83 yards.
“Philip had some great throws, and we just didn’t catch it sometimes,” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said.
The Gophers missed senior wide receiver Derrick Engel, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice last week. Nelson missed several targets, but the Gophers had dropped passes by Maxx Williams, Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones.
Nelson blamed himself, too.
“We had five or six chances there that we just let slip,” he said.
Running back David Cobb had his streak of four consecutive 100-yard rushing games snapped, as he carried 17 times for 68 yards.
But at least it was a closer game than others in recent years. The average margin of victory in Wisconsin’s winning streak over the Gophers had been nearly 24 points. The final scores in Kill’s first two years were 42-13 and 38-13.
“There are no moral victories,” Kill said. “The only thing I’ll say is I can live with a lot of things when we play our butts off.”
The game-time temperature was 18 degrees, with a wind chill of 5. The previous coldest game at TCF Bank Stadium came in 2010, when it was 23 degrees for the kickoff against Iowa. This time, the announced crowd of 53,090 was also a TCF Bank Stadium record.
The Gophers (8-3, 4-3 in the Big Ten) were trying to win a fifth consecutive Big Ten game for the first time since 1962. During their winning streak, the Gophers had committed just two turnovers, compared to eight for their opponents, but on Saturday, they had three turnovers to Wisconsin’s one.
The Badgers (9-2, 6-1) extended their winning streak to six games.
James White had 125 yards on 26 carries, and Melvin Gordon added 69 yards on 12 carries. The Gophers held Wisconsin to 197 yards rushing — not bad considering the Badgers came in averaging 307.9 rushing yards per game.
“It is really about protecting our house,” Gophers senior Ra’Shede Hageman said. “… It encourages the defense more, gives them more faith that we can go against a good running team and stop them.”
The defense played well. Had the offense been able to match that performance, the Gophers could have been the ones celebrating.