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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Déjàvu: Special teams spells Gophers’ end

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MINNEAPOLIS — Maybe lightning can strike twice.

For the second time in as many trips to the Metrodome, the
Wisconsin football team used a late Minnesota special teams snafu to pull out a
41-34 victory and retain possession of the coveted Paul Bunyan's Axe.

Leading 34-27 in a tight back-and-forth game with just under
six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) lined
up to punt the ball away to Minnesota (1-11, 0-8 Big Ten).

Gophers return man Harold Howell initially came forward a
couple steps to field Ken DeBauche's punt, but started backtracking as the ball
approached him. With Daven Jones barreling down on him, Howell tried a
dangerous over-the-shoulder catch, which backfired as the ball hit off his
hands and away from him.


Jones knocked over Howell, and after Strickland knocked the
ball deeper into Minnesota territory, long snapper Steve Johnson pounced on the
loose ball at the Minnesota 15-yard line.

"It took him probably about eight seconds to get down there,"
cornerback Ben Strickland joked. "But he got there and made the play and it's
wonderful for him, because he's a guy who works hard and just kind of found
himself in the right place at the right time."

After the recovery the Badgers knew they needed to seize the
opportunity to extend their lead.

"That was a big boost, because when stuff like that happens,
you have to capitalize," running back Zach Brown said.

From there Wisconsin did just that, needing only two plays —
an 11-yard keeper by quarterback Tyler Donovan and a four-yard scamper by Brown
— to punch the ball into the end zone for what would end up being the deciding

The score capped an extremely impressive day for Brown, who
ran for 250 yards and two touchdowns on 29 attempts.

Brown's touchdown was especially nice, as he was able to
keep his balance as he snaked his way between defenders and dove into the end
zone for his second touchdown.

"The running back coach, he's always on me about keeping my
feet moving," Brown said. "That was a great opportunity to show that I can keep
my feet moving, and it put me in the touchdown."

That wasn't the end of the dramatics, however.

On the third play of the ensuing possession, Minnesota
quarterback Adam Weber lofted a long pass down the right sideline intended for
wide receiver Marcus Sherels. Sherels was well-covered in a two-deep zone by
cornerback Aaron Henry, but when Henry leaped to make a play on the ball, it
ricocheted off him and into the air, eventually landing in the waiting arms of
Minnesota’s Ralph Spry.

"Just one of those freakish plays," Strickland said. "I
think (safety) Shane (Carter) thought he was going to have it, but the ball
just tipped a little higher than he thought and it didn't work out that way."

With Carter looking to make a play on the ball and out of
position following the tip, Spry raced into the end zone for a 71-yard
touchdown that pulled the Gophers to within seven again at 41-34.

"It's a horrible feeling," Henry said of watching Spry run.
"You can't really predict plays like that, but they are going to happen every
now and then and you have to just go out there and continue to play."

The Wisconsin defense would have one final chance to avenge

The Badgers were forced to punt after Donovan was sacked at the
UW 39 with 1:35 remaining in the game. DeBauche hit a great punt that
Strickland downed at the eight-yard line with 1:25 remaining in the game.

Weber's first pass of the drive was a short pickup to Spry
that gained four yards. The second time he dropped back to pass, Weber's throw
was tipped and intercepted by Strickland.

"I was just in the right place at the right time,"
Strickland said of his first career interception. "DeAndre (Levy) was
underneath in coverage and it just happened to be tipped and I made the catch.

"I started running, and, first of all, I was probably a
little too slow, and, second of all, there was a lot of big guys coming so I
just made sure I got down and secured the win."

Strickland returned the ball to the Minnesota 13-yard line,
and two kneel-downs later, the Badgers were racing to "chop down" the goalpost
in front of the Gophers' student section, with the axe for the second time in
as many trips.

"Not bad at all, I can't complain," Strickland said. "I like playing here."

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