November 15, 2008

UW storms back in second half to retain the Axe

MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin football team was again sprinkled with boo's as its players headed into the locker room trailing 21-7 to rival Minnesota Saturday afternoon. When the third quarter started, UW could have let its three first half turnovers weigh heavy and continue its flat performance. Or, it could forget about the slow start and focus on making a rally at its home stadium.

Luckily, for the 81,228 fans in attendance, the home team mounted an offensive surge and rallied back for a 35-32 inspired victory, a win that keeps Paul Bunyan's Axe safely secured in the Badger locker room.

"It's just a fight," senior defensive tackle Mike Newkirk, who recorded two game-altering sacks, one of which resulted in a safety, said. "You can't ever throw in the towel. It's something that you have to keep going, you have to keep grinding. You can't get down."

UW won the toss to start the game, but deferred to the second half. It turns out starting the third quarter with the ball was exactly what the Badgers needed. P.J. Hill, who finished with 117 rushing yards and two scores, broke a run for 38 yards on the first play of the second half.

While the Badgers were unable to find the end zone on the drive, Philip Welch drilled a 47-yard field goal to give the Badgers some points and reassert the momentum in the home team's favor.

"They came back in the second half and really played well," Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said after the game. "We played what I thought was a pretty solid 30 minutes and set the lead and didn't finish it out in the second half."

The momentum of the game really swung in the Badgers favor though, when the same fans that were booing its home team at the half, had one of the more energetic "Jump Around" sessions in recent memory. Oddly enough the energy leaked to the field as both teams started jumping around.

Shortly after the start of the fourth quarter, the Badgers recorded a touchdown, set up on a beautiful Dustin Sherer strike to Isaac Anderson, who finished with six catches for 114 yards, to tie the score. Then, two safeties later, the Badgers took the lead in a matter of 3:17 of game time.

The first safety came on the ensuing kickoff after Hill's second one-yard touchdown run.
True freshman Antonio Fenelus put his helmet on the ball and knocked the ball out of Gopher kick returner Troy Stoudermire's hands.

The ball sprung into the end zone and looked to be a sure touchdown for UW. However, Erik Smith was not able to corral the loose ball and it squirted out of the back of the end zone for the safety, giving Wisconsin a 26-24 edge.

"We have been harping on our special teams quite a bit and we had some positive things happen this week and in today's game," Badger head coach Bret Bielema said. "I thought we had a chance to get on the ball in the end zone and get seven points out of it rather than two, but that's just a head coach being greedy."

Minnesota held the Badgers and had a chance to re-take the lead with eight and a half minutes to play, but Gopher running back Shady Salamon dropped the option pitch and UW senior Jonathan Casillas pounced on the loose ball.

Two plays and 11 yards later, John Clay, who had left the game earlier with a shoulder injury, rumbled in for the touchdown putting UW up 35-24.

But Minnesota did not give up and rallied for a late touchdown and two-point conversion to cut the Badger lead to three with four and a half minutes to play.

"We had a chance to kind of drop it back and lay it down there, but we wouldn't," Brewster said. "We didn't lay down. At the end of the football (game), we scored, we went for two, and we were fighting and scratching to stay in the thing."

The Gophers actually got the ball back with a chance to force overtime or possibly steal a win at Camp Randall after a quick Badger three and out. But Weber's desperation fourth down pass was picked by Niles Brinkley and UW took a few celebratory kneels and claimed a hard fought victory."

"It was unbelievable," offensive lineman Gabe Carimi said after the win. "It was a great experience. We did some things that put us in a situation like that, but to have three turnovers and still come out with a victory was a really good feeling."

Injury update:

Kyle Jefferson

Late in the first half, sophomore wide receiver Kyle Jefferson caught a pass across the middle, broke a tackle and took a blow to the head. The scene turned awfully scary as Jefferson remained motionless on the field after fumbling the ball. The stadium fell silent as the ambulance drove onto the field and carried the injured player off the field on a stretcher.

"First and foremost, anytime one of your players is injured the way Kyle was, you become very ready to battle things and the results that may come soon after," Bielema said. "I can tell you right now that the preliminary reports are very, very encouraging.

"The tests that have come back have come back negative for anything that we were concerned about. I do know that on the field, he was able to grab things and squeeze his hands and move his feet and move his toes and he was talking.

"I do know that he was knocked out when they first got out there, but all positive things have come back so far so our thoughts and prayers will go out for Kyle and his family."

Daven Jones:

Early in the game, sophomore wide receiver Daven Jones was illegally blocked in the back on a punt return and suffered a torn ACL when trying to stabilize himself.

"Daven Jones did lose his ACL," Bielema said. "He was my right gunner on that (punt), got down there and unfortunately got pushed from behind and lost his ACL. Daven is a great kid, another good kid out of Glenville, Ohio and I know he was in a lot of pain there.

"I know he tore his ACL so he'll be looking at a long recovery but nothing that we haven't come back from before."

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