Gophers players hightailed it to the West end zone at Huntington Bank Stadium, in a hurry to grab Paul Bunyan's Axe, the prize that awaited them for their 23-13 victory over No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday.
Soon after, much of the crowd of 49,736 followed by storming the field, celebrating the first Axe triumph in Minneapolis in 18 years.
And the game operations folks got in on the festivities, too, blaring "Jump Around,'' the signature song at Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium, as a little dig to the archrivals from the east.
"Oh, that was funny,'' Gophers linebacker Jack Gibbens said with a sly smile afterward.
Gibbens and his teammates had many reasons to smile. Though their shot at winning the Big Ten's West Division evaporated Friday as Nebraska imploded in a come-from-ahead loss to Iowa, the Gophers grabbed a couple of valuable prizes nonetheless: the Axe for the second time in four years and the knowledge that they kept their most bitter rival from playing for the Big Ten championship.
"That's a really good football team, and that was a really hard game,'' Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "I'm so proud of our players, their resolve, their courage throughout the year.''
Minnesota's defense kept Wisconsin's offense out of the end zone, while the Gophers offense took control in the second half, overcoming a 10-6 deficit at the break and scoring 14 points in the third quarter. The Gophers' win gave Iowa (10-2, 7-2) the West title outright, and the Hawkeyes will play Michigan for the conference championship next Saturday in Indianapolis.
The Gophers (8-4, 6-3) finished in a three-way tie for second in the West with Purdue and Wisconsin (8-4, 6-3). Had Nebraska held on to win and all other results stayed the same, Minnesota would be going to Indy.
"The whole mission of the week was to get the Axe,'' Fleck said. "If it came with something, great. If it didn't, great.''
Tanner Morgan passed for 199 yards and a touchdown to Chris Autman-Bell, Ky Thomas rushed for a TD and the Gophers got three field goals from Matthew Trickett. The Gophers defense was outstanding, holding the Badgers to only a field goal in the second half. Wisconsin's lone TD came on an interception return in the first half.
Minnesota held Badgers freshman running back Braelon Allen, who averaged 144.7 yards in Wisconsin's seven-game win streak, to 47 yards on 17 carries. Graham Mertz completed 21 of 38 passes for 171 yards, and the Gophers held him to 4-for-10 passing for 29 yards on third downs.
"We were going to play in their face, man cover, and make [No.] 5 beat you,'' Fleck said.
The teams traded long drives and short field goals in the game's first 17:23 before Wisconsin made what could have been a game-defining play.
Outside linebacker Noah Burks tipped Morgan's first-down pass, and safety Scott Nelson intercepted it and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown and a 10-3 Badgers lead with 12:22 left in the second quarter.
"The way he responds after that,'' Fleck said of Morgan. "He makes those huge throws. That's why I'm so proud of him, with all the criticism he takes.''
Huge throw No. 1 was a connection to Mar'Keise Irving out of the backfield for a 36-yard gain to the Wisconsin 29, a play on which only linebacker Leo Chenal's tackle prevented Irving from scoring. The Gophers got a field goal out of that one.
Justin Walley's interception on Wisconsin's third play of the second half — a grab in which Walley outdueled receiver Kendric Pryor for a 50-50 ball — set up huge throw No. 2. Morgan immediately followed with a 26-yard hookup with tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford. Thomas' 2-yard TD run gave the Gophers a 13-10 lead.
After Wisconsin tied it 13-13 on Collin Larsh's 28-yard field goal, huge throw No. 3 was Morgan's 27-yard TD pass to Autman-Bell that gave the Gophers a 20-13 lead with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
"It's all about response, which is something I pride myself on,'' Morgan said. "… I knew I had to stay focused, stay calm and execute.''
Wisconsin would have one more parry into Gophers territory, reaching the 30, but Lash's 48-yard field-goal attempt hit the crossbar and bounced back to the field harmlessly, a sign that maybe something was going right for a team that had dropped 16 of the previous 17 Axe games.
Trickett's 36-yard field goal with 6:08 to play closed the scoring, and the Gophers went into Victory formation after a Badgers turnover on downs with 48 seconds left.
"It was fun winning it in Camp Randall,'' Fleck said of the 2018 triumph. "It was even better winning it at home.''