Taking a look at recent memorable Paul Bunyan Axe battles

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a look at recent memorable Paul Bunyan Axe battles

When it comes to rivalries, few are more fun and intense than the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe between Wisconsin and Minnesota, the longest-running rivalry in major college football that began in 1890.

This year’s clash in Madison will be one of the biggest and most important since the 1962 meeting where the winner went to the Rose Bowl. The Badgers took that game in Madison, 14-9.

The stakes this Saturday aren’t that high. Still, the winner will be celebrating a lot more than taking home the coveted Axe.

This year, the winner also will win the West and advance to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game to play Ohio State.

The Badgers have thoroughly dominated the Gophers of late, winning the last 10 meetings and 17 of 19.

Minnesota’s lone victories in that span have come in 2001 and 2003. The Gophers haven’t left Madison with a win since 1994.

Here is a look at some of the more memorable Axe battles in recent years, a series Minnesota leads, 59-56-8.

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Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 34, 2005.

This is referred to by some as the “Miracle at the Metrodome.” And it’s one of the biggest gut punches the Gophers have taken in the last 50 years. Wisconsin’s Jonathan Casillas blocked a punt and Ben Strickland recovered it in the end zone with 30 seconds left to complete a wild comeback and lift Wisconsin to victory.

“When you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t seen it all,” Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said.

With the Golden Gophers leading 34-31, Justin Kucek lined up to punt at the Minnesota 5. Kucek dropped the snap, picked up the ball and tried to punt. But Casillas blocked it. Strickland recovered for the winning score.

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Minnesota 37, Wisconsin 34, 2003.

Before Minnesota’s Rhys Lloyd went out to attempt a game-winning field goal, Minnesota coach Glen Mason told him: “Don’t forget to get the Axe,” which sat on Wisconsin’s sideline.

Lloyd went out and proceeded to boot a 35-yard field goal to give the Gophers a win. Lloyd led a rush of Gophers to the Wisconsin sideline, grabbed the Axe and paraded it around the Metrodome.

Marion Barber III had 139 yards rushing and a touchdown, and Laurence Maroney added 135 yards and a score for the Gophers.

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Wisconsin 20, Minnesota 17 OT, 1999

A week after beating Ohio State in Columbus, the Badgers edged Minnesota in overtime. Vitaly Pisetsky’s 31-yard field goal in overtime was the difference.

The Badgers played without head coach Barry Alvarez, who was in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., 75 miles away, awaiting knee surgery. Assistant head coach John Palermo coached the team.

Ron Dayne would go on to win the Heisman but had his worst game of the season, as the Gophers held him to a season-low 80 yards rushing.

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Minnesota 28, Wisconsin 21, 1993.

Minnesota dealt the Rose Bowl-bound Badgers what would be their lone loss of the season. The Gophers had just three wins to that point; Wisconsin was 6-0.

Minnesota running back Chris Darkins scored a pair of touchdowns and quarterback Scott Eckers passed for 267 yards and two scores to spark the upset.

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Wisconsin 41, Minnesota 23, 2010.

The Badgers were led by the 100-yard rushing efforts of James White and John Clay. But this meeting was notable for Bret Bielema’s decision to go for two points with 6:39 left in the game with a 41-16 lead.

“I thought it was a very poor decision by a head football coach and he’ll have to live with that,” said Minnesota coach Tim Brewster. “It was wrong. Everybody in here knows it and everybody in college football knows it. It was wrong.”

Bielema defended his decision as being the correct one on the card he carries to determine whether to kick an extra point or go for the 2-point conversion.

“You know what? If we’re playing and somebody is going to go for two against me because they’re up 25, that’s what they should do, that’s what the card says,” he said.

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Wisconsin 34, Minnesota 27, 1995.

John Hall booted a 60-yard field goal and Aaron Stecker had a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD to end a two-game Minnesota winning streak in the series. But a decision to go for a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal, leading 34-20 with eight minutes left, nearly undid the Badgers.

The Gophers stopped the Badgers and proceeded to score a TD with 6:05 left to bring Minnesota within a touchdown. Alas, Wisconsin held on.

“I’m stupid,” Alvarez said with a smile. “We got carried away. It was foolish. I apologized to the kids for it. I made a bad mistake.”

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Wisconsin 49, Minnesota 31, 2002.

Call this the “Anthony Davis Game.” He ran for a career-high 301 yards and five touchdowns on 45 carries as Wisconsin won back the Axe. Davis’ five TDs tied the school record.

The Badgers became bowl-eligible for the first time since 2000 and also avoided a last-place finish and a second straight losing season.

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Minnesota 17, Wisconsin 14, 1994.

The Golden Gophers beat the Badgers, 28-21, the year before to keep Wisconsin from going unbeaten during what was a march to the Rose Bowl. So, the Badgers were looking for revenge in Camp Randall.

But Minnesota got Wisconsin again. This is the last time the Gophers have left Madison with a win.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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