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Gophers Deny Wisconsin West Title with 23-13 Win
November 27, 2021

The Minnesota Gophers hoped to play Wisconsin for the Big Ten West title. But after Iowa beat Nebraska yesterday, all the Gophers could hope for was to keep the Badgers from the title. They did that by scoring 17 second-half points and a 23-13 win. Instead of Wisconsin, Iowa will go to the Big Ten title game against Michigan.

The Gophers defense clogged a stellar Wisconsin offensive line, holding 17-year-old Braelon Allen to 47 yards rushing on 17 carries. Linebackers Jack Gibbens and Mariano Sori-Marin combined for 17 tackles, more than offsetting the 14 tackles of Badgers linebacker Leo Chanal, who had 14.

Wisconsin’s only touchdown came on a 25-yard interception return by Scott Nelson, who picked off a tipped pass by Tanner Morgan and ran it into the end zone to give the Badgers a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter. It came after long initial drives by each team that resulted in field goals and consumed the opening 17 minutes.

The Gophers got another field goal before halftime and got a break early in the second half. On a third-and-seven, Graham Mertz passed to Kendric Pryor, who caught the ball at the same time as cornerback Justus Walley. The two clung to the ball, and Walley came away with it as they hit the ground for an interception at the Wisconsin 28. The official reviewed the play and upheld their call. Morgan hit tight-end Brevyn Spann-Ford for 26 yard and then, with the line stacked to the right, pitched to Ky Thomas who went around the right side untouched to give the Gophers a 13-10 lead.

Wisconsin tied the game with a field goal, but Morgan, who was 11 for 16 in the game, remained steady. After a holding penalty on Daniel Faalele left Minnesota with a first-and-20 at the Wisconsin 27. Chris Autman-Bell beat Faion Hicks and Morgan laid the ball in his hands for a touchdown that put the Gophers ahead to stay.

Wisconsin eventually abandoned the run and relied on the passing of Mertz, which got them to Minnesota’s 30 early in the fourth quarter. Collin Larsh attempted a 48-yard field goal, which bounced off the cross bar, leaving the Badgers behind by seven.

Another big pass to Spann-Ford got the ball into Badgers territory and ended up with a Matthew Tricket field goal with little over six minutes left in the game. The Minnesota defense remained unyielding (it held the Badgers to 233 yards from scrimmage), and fans in the student section crowded the lower level, ready to rush the field when victory was assured.

When time expired, the Gophers ran to retrieve Paul Bunyan’s Axe, trailed by fans swarming out of the far end zone.

The loss for Wisconsin snapped a seven-game winning streak. It was the first time the Gophers beat Wisconsin at TCF/Huntington Bank Stadium. Wisconsin still leads the all-time series 62-61-8.

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