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November 12, 2011

Bringing the axe back...again

MINNEAPOLIS - Russell Wilson had never been a part of a trophy game during his tenure as a collegiate quarterback.

Following Wisconsin's 42-13 win over Minnesota Saturday afternoon, he won't soon forget his first experience in such an environment.

The senior quarterback completed 16-of-17 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns against the Gophers. His only incompletion came when Nick Toon dropped a deep pass in the third quarter.

As a result Wilson was able to fully realize what it means to hold Paul Bunyan's axe.

"It was pretty awesome," Wilson said. "Everyone was trying to get their hands on it and it was just big for us to get that win.

"It's such a great tradition so it just means a lot."

Montee Ball, UW's stud junior tailback, also had a day. He rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns, breaking Brian Calhoun's UW record for touchdowns scored in a single season in the meantime.

A third touchdown, of the receiving variety, helped Ball become the Big Ten's all-time record holder with 27 touchdowns scored in a single season.

"I'm really glad that I embraced my challenge during the offseason," Ball said. "And carrying it forward to this season, it's just been an overall experience."

Behind Ball and a near-perfect Wilson, Wisconsin rolled past the Gophers for the eighth time in eight years. The current class of Badger seniors never once lost the axe.

"It's a great feeling," senior Antonio Fenelus said. "Just returning home with the axe. You never want to lose it as a player. We were able to keep it all four years I've been here.

"It's a great feeling."

UW opened Saturday's contest with a punishing 14-play, 81-yard drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock before Ball capped it with a five-yard touchdown catch.

Ball scored once more in the first quarter following a Gopher three-and-out. This time the junior took the handoff, ran straight through the middle of his line, juked a frozen Gopher defender and coasted into the end zone from 14 yards out.

It was going to be that kind of day for Wisconsin and one that has become all to familiar for the lowly Gophers.

"They did a good job of executive offensively and staying on the field," Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said. "And offensively when we had opportunities we just didn't take advantage of them.

"We had dropped balls and just didn't make a play."

Credit the Badger defense for much of Minnesota's offensive shortcomings. The Badgers allowed just 156 total yards, 51 of which came through the air. It wasn't the best offense UW has played this season, but it might have been it's best defensive effort collectively.

"This is the best we've played," UW senior safety Aaron Henry said. "Anytime you consider yourself as a good team you have to play your best as the season goes on."

Mike Taylor led the team with 13 tackles, eight of the solo variety. He left the game for a short period of time after tweaking his right knee, but he returned and proved to be just as effective as he was prior to his departure.

Chris Borland finished with seven, one being a tackle-for-loss. Senior cornerback Antonio Fenelus logged an interception when it seemed as though Minnesota had gained some momentum midway through the second quarter.

That turnover led to UW's fourth touchdown of the first half when Wilson commandeered a five-play, 78-yard scoring drive capped by a Nick Toon 17-yard touchdown reception.

Toon, UW's top receiver, finished his final battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe with eight catches for 100 yards and a couple of scores.

"I just went out and did what I do today," Toon said. "I'm a confident player. I'm confident in my ability and you've got to take it for what it is and move forward to the next week."

Wisconsin finished Saturday's game with 461 yards of total offense, including 283 yards on the ground. The Gophers, a team that had improved drastically in each of the past two weeks, was left starting behind the Badgers from the get go.

UW set the tone during its first drive of the contest and never looked back.

"We wanted to make sure we started out fast because it's a hostile environment," UW senior right guard Kevin Zeitler said. "It's a rivalry game so you know anything can happen."





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