Wisconsin fought back from an 18-point deficit, but in the end, the Badgers were left watching as Rhys Lloyd's 35-yard field goal split the uprights with no time left on the clock, earning No. 18 Minnesota a 37-34 victory.
"I had a lot of confidence in (Lloyd) to make that kick," Minnesota coach Glenn Mason said. "I put tremendous pressure on him in practice every day. We know we can always count on him."
"As soon as I kicked it, I started running," Lloyd said. "I knew it was good."
Minnesota's win gives the Gophers (5-2 Big Ten, 9-2 overall) their first nine-win season since 1905. It is also the second time in the last three years that Minnesota can lay claim to the Paul Bunyan Axe, the prize in college football's longest rivalry.
Wisconsin trailed 24-6 late in the first half, but Jim Sorgi threw four touchdown passes, the first coming with 1:25 left in the second quarter, to bring the Badgers all the way back, tying the game at 34-34 with Owen Daniels' second touchdown reception of the game midway through the fourth quarter.
The Gophers dominated the game early, scoring on their first four possessions and tallying 284 yards total offense in the first half. Minnesota, though was held largely in check in the second half. With less than five minutes left to play, Minnesota faced a third-and-11 at its 33 and tried to stretch the field. Wisconsin receiver Brandon Williams, who played cornerback periodically Saturday, ran stride-for-stride with Aaron Hosack, keeping the Gopher receiver from making a play on the ball.
"Brandon (Williams) is a very good player, wish we had more of them but we don't so at the end of the game when it became crunch time we wanted him in the game," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said.
Following a 24-yard punt return by Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin took over at its 42 seemingly with the momentum at hand. Three plays later, though, a short pass to Darrin Charles gained six yards when the Badgers needed nine, forcing Wisconsin to punt.
"I tried to lead him a little bit so he could catch the ball and turn upfield," Sorgi said. "When he caught it, the first thought in my mind was that we had the first down, but then he got tackled a little bit short."
Late in the third quarter, Sorgi had thrown a similar pass on a second-and-nine to Charles that went for a 12-yard touchdown, knotting the contest at 27-27.
Following Wisconsin's punt, Minnesota took over with 2:49 showing on the game clock. Facing third-and-long from the its 33, the Gophers again went downfield for Hosack, who again faced Williams in coverage. Benji Kamrath, who replaced Asad Abdul-Khaliq after the Gopher signal-caller injured his shoulder just before halftime, delivered a deep pass down the sideline for Hosack. Williams once more ran with him stride-for-stride, but this time Hosack made an acrobatic catch, leaping to corral the pass and coming down in bounds, giving the Gophers a first down at the Badger 45.
"I was in the position, I swung at the ball. If I'd turned around, might have made a pick," Williams said. "Just needed to make one more play."
The Gophers then turned to their gaudy running game, which racked up 336 yards Saturday. Marion Barber III carried three times for 24 yards and Laurence Maroney picked up three, setting up second-and-seven at the 18. Minnesota then allowed the clock to tick down to one second before calling timeout, setting the stage for Lloyd's heroics.
MN-Laurence Maroney 30 run (Rhys Lloyd kick) at 14:04. Three plays, 66 yards, 0:56. Minnesota 7, Wisconsin 0.
MN-Rhys Lloyd 34 field goal at 7:56. Fourteen plays, 52 yards, 4:27. Minnesota 10, Wisconsin 0.
UW-Mike Allen 27 field goal at 0:13. Seventeen plays, 75 yards, 7:43.
Minnesota 10, Wisconsin 3.
MN-Asad Abdul Khaliq 13 run (Lloyd kick) at 10:52. Eleven plays, 75 yards, 4:41. Minnesota 17, Wisconsin 3.
UW-Allen 23 field goal at 4:54. Twelve plays, 76 yards, 5:58. Minnesota 17, Wisconsin 6.
MN-Thomas Tapeh six run (Lloyd kick) at 2:01. Eight plays, 79 yards, 2:53. Minnesota 24, Wisconsin 6.
UW-Owen Daniels 27 pass from Jim Sorgi (Allen kick) at 1:25. Five plays, 65 yards, 0:36. Minnesota 24, Wisconsin 13.
UW-Lee Evans 17 pass from Sorgi (Allen kick) at 12:47. Five plays, 80 yards, 2:13. Minnesota 24, Wisconsin 20.
MN-Lloyd 34 field goal at 9:17. Seven plays, 60 yards, 3:30. Minnesota 27, Wisconsin 20.
UW-Darrin Charles 12 pass from Sorgi (Allen kick) at 1:35. Eight plays, 69 yards, 4:56. Wisconsin 27, Minnesota 27.
MN-Marion Barber III 11 run (Lloyd kick) at 11:13. Seven plays, 60 yards. 2:33. Minnesota 34, Wisconsin 27.
UW-Daniels 26 pass from Sorgi (Allen kick) at 7:15. Nine plays, 80 yards, 3:58. Wisconsin 34, Minnesota 34.
MN-Lloyd 35 field goal at 0:00. Eleven plays, 62 yards, 2:49. Minnesota 37,