Rapid Reaction: Athan Kaliakmanis rallies Minnesota as Gophers retain the Axe vs. Wisconsin
Final Score: Minnesota 23, Wisconsin 16
Brief Recap: In a battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the game between Minnesota and Wisconsin turned into a defensive struggle in the second half. It set the stage for a dramatic stage down the stretch.
At one point, it looked like the Badgers might gain control of the game with 10 points scored in the third quarter. Wisconsin also kept star running back Mohamed Ibrahim bottled up all game long.
Unfortunately, Minnesota responded with 10 points of its own in the fourth quarter. A missed field goal late in the game by the Gophers kept things interesting until the final whistle with Wisconsin having one final drive with the ball to finish the game.
The Badgers rolled all the way into the red zone, aided by a pass interference call in the end zone. However, Minnesota’s defense was up to the task, harassing Graham Mertz and keep the Badgers out of the end zone to retain the Axe.
Key Player: Minnesota QB Athan Kaliakmanis. Kaliakmanis received his first start in the Border Battle with Tanner Morgan still sidelined in Rivalry Weekend. It turned into a great outing for Kaliakmanis.
He rallied the Gophers in the second half and really settled in against the Badger defense. Kaliakmanis also deliver Minnesota’s big blow in the game late in the fourth quarter.
With the two sides tied at 16-all and less than 4 minutes remaining in the game, Kaliakmanis found La’Meke Brockington over the middle of the field. Brockington hit the gas and rolled 45 yards for the go-ahead score.
When it was all said and done, Kaliakmanis finished the game 19-for-29 with 319 yards passing the ball and 2 touchdowns. He also added a 23-yard scramble to his credit.
Key Statistic: 70, total rushing yards for Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim in the win. Ibrahim’s impressive stretch of 100-yard performances comes to an end, but it fortunately is snapped in a winning effort for the Gophers. Ibrahim was banged up early in the game and never fully got on track against the Badgers.
What it means moving forward: With the win, Minnesota captures the Axe in back-to-back years for the first time since 1993-94. Head coach PJ Fleck also improves to 3-3 head-to-head against Wisconsin. The Gophers also have a chance at back-to-back 9-win seasons after finishing the regular season at 8-4 with a bowl game to come.
For Wisconsin, the Badgers will finish the year at 6-6 in a tumultuous season that included the removal of former head coach Paul Chryst. Now, Jim Leonhard waits to see if he did enough to land the full-time head coaching job after serving on an interim basis.