The Sports Xchange
MADISON - Wisconsin earned its third Big Ten championship berth in four years with an emotional 34-24 win against Minnesota on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
The 14th-ranked Badgers, who rallied to beat the Gophers, clinched sole possession of the West Division to gain a slot in the Big Ten championship next week in Indianapolis. They'll face No. 6 Ohio State, the East Division winner.
The win had added significance for 18 Wisconsin seniors because the Badgers had lost on Senior Day the previous two years. Wisconsin (10-2, 7-1) also hoisted Paul Bunyan's Axe, the trophy given to the winner of the rivalry game.
No. 18 Minnesota got off to a strong start as linebacker Jack Lynn forced a fumble on a Wisconsin kickoff return on the Badgers' 13-yard line. The recovery by Eric Murray on the first play of Wisconsin's first series was the Gophers' 28th forced turnover of the season.
The Gophers (8-4, 5-3) struck two plays later with a 10-yard touchdown run by quarterback Mitch Leidner that gave Minnesota a 7-0 lead.
With a 2-yard carry on Wisconsin's first drive of the game, running back Melvin Gordon broke the Big Ten and Badgers season rushing record. The junior entered the game tied with 1999 Heisman Trophy winner and former UW standout Ron Dayne, with 2,109 yards.
Gordon, a Heisman Trophy candidate, rushed for 151 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown as Wisconsin's winning streak against Minnesota reached 11 games.
Meanwhile, Gophers tailback David Cobb shook off any effects of a hamstring injury suffered last week with a 40-yard run that pushed Minnesota's lead to 14-3 with 1:56 left in the first quarter.
Wisconsin surged late in the half when quarterback Joel Stave and wide receiver Alex Erickson connected on Wisconsin's longest pass play of the season -- a 70-yard strike that put the Badgers in the red zone. The pass and catch were career bests for Stave and Erickson.
Gordon caught a 4-yard TD pass three plays later that trimmed the Gophers' lead to 17-10 with 4:39 left in the second quarter.
Momentum shifted in the Badgers' favor with less than 20 seconds to go in the half when the Gophers' Cobb fumbled and Badgers safety Michael Caputo picked up the loose ball on Wisconsin's 31-yard line.
Two quick catches by Erickson covered 49 yards and put Wisconsin in field-goal range, and freshman Rafael Gaglianone drilled a 38-yarder to cut Minnesota's lead 17-13 at the half.
Sophomore running back Corey Clement gave Wisconsin its first lead of the game on a 28-yard TD run during a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive that put Wisconsin ahead 20-17 with 6:20 to go in the third quarter. It was Clement's first snap of the game.
Gordon helped Wisconsin pad its lead with a 1-yard TD run with 10:57 remaining, as the Badgers pulled away to a 27-17 lead.
Clement bolted between two tackles for a 31-yard run to set the stage for Gordon's second TD.
Cobb, who was limited in practice leading up to the game after suffering the hamstring injury seven days ago, finished with 25 carries on 118 yards and a TD.
Tight end Maxx Williams' 53-yard run and a 2-yard TD run by Leidner with 7:32 left kept the game close at 27-24, but sophomore wide receiver Robert Wheelwright caught a 17-yard TD pass from Stave with 4:41 left to put Wisconsin up 10.
BADGER BITS: The game between Wisconsin and Minnesota marked the 124th meeting in the rivalry, which extends the longest rivalry among Football Bowl Series teams. ... The Badgers' seven-game winning streak is the third-longest in the nation, behind Florida State (22) and Ohio State (eight).