Minnesota Loses Another Trophy Game
October 7, 2009

In a Twin Cities sports weekend that extended through Tuesday, Minnesota baseball, football, and hockey teams enjoyed phenomenal success as the Twins swept the Kansas City Royals to tie Detroit in the American League Central championship race and then beat the Tigers in a one-game playoff, the Brett Favre-led Vikings defeated the Packers, and the Wild came from behind to defeat Anaheim in their home season opener.

The region’s only home failure came on Saturday when the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers once again could not defeat the Wisconsin Badgers, losing 31-28 at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota was unable to wrestle away the Paul Bunyan Axe trophy which returned to Madison with the Badgers. Wisconsin has beaten Minnesota and kept this trophy for six consecutive years. Gopher coach Tim Brewster was at the team’s helm for the last three losses to the Badgers. In fact, Brewster hasn’t been good at winning any of the Gophers’ trophy games whether they involve axes, pigs, jugs, or bells. Coach Brew is 0-7. The trophy case at the new stadium is bare.

There was nothing new about the latest Wisconsin victory. As in the past, the Badgers simply shoved the ball down Minnesota’s throat using a devastating running game. Wisconsin had 295 net yards rushing the ball, compared to only 57 for the Gophers. Sophomore running back John Clay from Racine rushed for 184 yards, 159 of them in the second half. As was the case two weeks earlier with the California Golden Bears’ pile-driving running back Jahvid Best, Minnesota’s defense was unable to corral a hard-charging runner. The only difference in the losses to Cal and Wisconsin was the fact that Bears’ coach Jeff Tedford held Best back in the second half. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, on the other hand, saw to it that his running back kept taking handoff after handoff.

“We have to do what we have to do,” Bielema said after the game. “We like it when we can take the lead and then can milk the clock.” While Wisconsin was running the ball and taking time off the clock, Gopher quarterback Adam Weber put the ball in the air 30 times, completing 16 passes for 271 yards and one interception. Weber’s effort wasn’t enough to offset the overwhelming Badger running game.

“This one’s going to hurt for a while,” Weber muttered after the game. He didn’t define how long “a while” is, but, in the past, losses like this one have sent the Gophers reeling on a downward spiral.

“We didn’t play good enough to win,” said Weber. “We struggled. They had success.” Minnesota had a 13-10 halftime lead. “We had momentum going into the second half but couldn’t sustain it.”

For more than two decades, the problem with Gopher football teams has been the lack of depth. The frontline players usually can keep up with those of any team for at least half a game. But, as the contest continues, these players tend to wear out. This is especially true when playing a grind-it-out team such as Wisconsin, whose offensive line averages 6 foot 6 and 315 pounds.

“I mean, it’s Wisconsin,” said Minnesota defensive back Kim Royston, “that’s what they do.” Royston is deeply familiar with the Badgers he started his playing career with those guys before transferring to Minnesota.

The passion elicited by the traditional border war between Minnesota and Wisconsin universities is intensified by the fact that the rosters of both teams are stocked with players from the rival state. On the Badger squad are David Gilreath (Minneapolis), Issac Anderson (Minneapolis), Joe Schafer (St. Paul), Brendan Kelly (Eden Prairie), Nate Tice (Edina), Casey Dehn (Owatonna), Matthew Groff (Mahtomedi), and Blake Sorenson (Eden Prairie).

Meanwhile, the Gopher roster has Nick Stommes (Owen), Raymond Henderson (Oak Creek), Ryan Coleman (Brookfield), Jacob Glickstein (New Berlin), Chris Severson (Wanaukee), Austin Hahn (Hartford), Bryan Klitzke (Chippewa Falls), Joe Balthazor (Hartland), and David Schwerman (Kettle Moraine).

On Saturday, after Minnesota had taken a 13-10 halftime lead, following blown chances to advance ahead by even more points, Wisconsin coolly and calmly went about the business of grinding the Gophers into the ground. The Badgers scored on a one-yard plunge by Clay and a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Scott Tolzien to Lance Hendricks, and Wisconsin led 24-13. An 88-yard fumble return for a touchdown my Marcus Sherels gave the Gophers momentary hope, but that was squashed by another one-yard Clay touchdown plunge.

Wisconsin thus has taken the wind out of the Gopher sails in only the second game of the Big 10 season. A win over Purdue in the upcoming Homecoming game has become the “must win” of the 2009 season.

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