Boye Mafe remembers it well. Last December, the Gophers had a chance to win Paul Bunyan's Axe at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., only to see the Badgers prevail 20-17 in overtime. That came after the Gophers missed a field goal to begin the extra session.
"It means everything, especially after last year and how we lost by a field goal and the heartbreak that brought to the whole team,'' said Mafe, a Gophers fifth-year senior defensive end. "We all felt that on the bus ride home. That one sat with us."
Nearly a year after that stinging loss, the Gophers experienced an emotional 180-degree turn, celebrating with fans that stormed the field after their 23-13 victory over the No. 14 Badgers on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium.
Mafe, a former Hopkins standout, wasn't the first one to grab the Axe. That honor, he said, went to sixth-year senior tight end Ko Kieft, who was on the field when the Gophers closed the game in Victory formation in the final 48 seconds.
"It was a race, and I think Ko actually beat everybody,'' Mafe said. "It was between Ko, Big O [defensive end Esezi Otomewo] and [cornerback] Coney [Durr].''
Senior kicker Matthew Trickett, a grad transfer from Kent State, used humor to describe his feelings after the victory, in which he kicked three field goals. He also was seen on video "rowing the boat'' with fans afterward.
"First experience, very good. I'd do it again for sure," he deadpanned.
Senior linebacker Jack Gibbens, in his first year with the Gophers after transferring from Abilene Christian, soaked it all in.
"Just to play in historic games like that in front of big crowds, it's what you dream of doing when you're a little kid," Gibbens said. "… It was awesome."
Mafe pointed to the "Axe Tough" practice periods during training camp that focused on a physical team like Wisconsin. It paid off as Minnesota held Braelon Allen, the Badgers' 238-pound freshman phenom running back, to 47 yards on 17 carries and kept the Wisconsin offense out of the end zone.
"We worked on these type of plays, especially with these run-heavy teams," Mafe said. "We went through the whole offseason thinking about that and having it in the back of our heads. This is everything we worked for."
For quarterback Tanner Morgan, a second Axe triumph held even more meaning.
"It's a pretty special feeling,'' he said. "It makes me think about 2018 [a 37-15 Minnesota win], how much it meant to the state, to the program. But doing it here in front of our fans definitely means a lot.''
On Friday, 17 Gophers posted farewell tweets, thanking coaches teammates and fans. Most were either seniors who have exhausted their eligibility or those not planning to return next season.
Tackle Daniel Faalele, a fourth-year senior who has a year of eligibility remaining, will not return and is expected make himself available for the NFL draft.
Others who wrote goodbye messages on Twitter were offensive linemen Conner Olson, Sam Schlueter and Austin Beier; Kieft; defensive linemen Micah Dew-Treadway, Nyles Pinckney and Jack Kern; linebackers Gibbens and Pete Bercich; defensive backs Durr, Justus Harris, Phillip Howard, Bishop McDonald and Calvin Swenson; and kickers Will Mobley and Brock Walker.
All the players who tweeted goodbye messages also participated in Senior Day festivities. They were joined by offensive lineman Blaise Andries, wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, defensive ends Mafe and Otomewo and center John Michael Schmitz.
Coach P.J. Fleck said this past week that just because a player goes through Senior Day festivities, that does not necessarily mean he is not coming back. Conversely, if somebody doesn't go through the festivities, that doesn't definitely mean he is coming back.