Eric Burrell wanted to make sure he was ready.
After intercepting a pass in the end zone in the second quarter, the University of Wisconsin senior safety practiced chopping the north end zone’s goal post, the celebration senior Badgers get to partake in if they win the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Burrell was a bit early — it took a gutty, full-team performance and an overtime period to get the job done — the Badgers bounced back from three consecutive losses to post a 20-17 win over visiting Minnesota on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
“I was in a drought, man, I was due to make a play,” Burrell said. “I just wanted to celebrate that, I was in the moment. If we would’ve lost, I’d have been a meme and that would’ve been very unfortunate. I’m happy that worked out in our favor.”
The Badgers pulled their record to 3-3 by notching their 23rd win in the past 25 games against Minnesota. They will find out Sunday if they’ll play in a bowl game.
UW’s defense held firm in the extra period after allowing the Gophers to tie the game at 17 in the fourth quarter. Minnesota’s Anders Gelecinskyj missed a 36-yard field goal in OT and after five rushes from senior Garrett Groshek, UW junior Collin Larsh drilled a 30-yard kick to give the Badgers another year with Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
“Response” has been a buzzword with team in recent weeks. The Badgers needed to respond from a three-game losing streak, but also needed to respond better to in-game adversity. Minnesota (3-4) took the lead twice on Saturday — 7-0 late in the first quarter and 10-7 early in the third.
UW put together 75-yard touchdown drives immediately following the Gophers’ go-ahead drives, showing the ability to answer the bell that’s been missing in its losses.
“We talk all the time, but to be able to do that is impressive, when you can answer a score with a score,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “That was a huge response. … They care about this team. Obviously we haven’t been real explosive at all and struggling at time offensively. But (we were) able to put together some plays, some drives. … We got a lot of production out of older guys that you needed them to be productive.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz was injured on a third-quarter scramble in which he dove head-first to gain more yards. He was hit by Boye Mafe and suffered what UW called an upper-body injury. He didn’t return to the game and was replaced by redshirt sophomore Chase Wolf, who threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jack Dunn on the play after Mertz’s injury.
The Badgers had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Wolf was intercepted in the end zone on a deep pass attempt to Devin Chandler with 1 minute, 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Chryst said the team would find out more about Mertz’s injury on Sunday, but Mertz was on the field with the team celebrating after Larsh’s kick.
Groshek led the Badgers’ offense, tallying a career-high 154 yards on 24 carries. Groshek routinely gained extra yards running through defenders and pushing piles forward.
“One of the things that (offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph) always says is, ‘Draw the line,’” Groshek said. “We decided that whether or not the score is what it is, we’re going to keep playing the same. Just bringing great energy on the offense, just trying to do our part to help win the game.”
Minnesota snatched momentum in the first half after taking advantage of a quick-kick punt from quarterback Tanner Morgan. That pinned UW at its 1 even after the play was reviewed, as it appeared the ball had entered the end zone and should’ve been a touchback. The Gophers were able to punt after a replay review overturned a sack-fumble from linebacker Jack Sanborn — recovered by UW’s Noah Burks and taken into plus-territory — and changed the play to an incomplete pass.
After a three-and-out from the Badgers, Minnesota put together a quick scoring drive, capped off by Cam Wiley’s 19-yard catch late in the first quarter. Wiley was uncovered on a wheel route out of the backfield.
UW found a spark offensively after falling behind, riding the rushing attack despite the patchwork backfield. Three runs produced a first down, then Mertz hit two short passes that picked up a total of 24 yards. Groshek — following key blocks from left guard Josh Seltzner and fullback Mason Stokke — ripped off the longest run of his career to score from 39 yards out to tie the game early in the second quarter.
Larsh’s first field goal of the night, a 31-yard kick in the middle of the fourth quarter, gave UW a 17-10 lead.
UW’s defense had to battle against Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim — the Big Ten Conference’s running back of the year had 151 yards on 26 carries — but was able to make enough plays in crucial moments to help secure the win.
Senior receiver Jack Dunn said UW getting contributions up and down the lineup made the victory over the Gophers and retaining Paul Bunyan’s Axe that much sweeter.
“At the end of the day, it came down to us coming together, looking each other in the eye and saying, ‘We’re going to get this done,’” said Dunn, who had a game-high seven catches and 76 yards. “You’re going to go through adversity — we’ve gone through plenty of it — that’s what makes this win special.
“No matter what adversity we went through, we stayed together. We’ve got a lot of selfless guys out there who put the team first. All they want to do is win games and see each other do well. I think that’s what makes this win feel so great: Things finally came together and we put things together as a unit. It’s just a great feeling.”
Photos: Badgers take down Golden Gophers in OT