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Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: Badgers survive slow start, capture Big Ten West title, Paul Bunyan's Axe

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The Badgers overcame a 17-3 deficit in the de facto Big Ten West division championship game, reclaiming the Axe for the 11 straight year.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin began Saturday's game vs. Minnesota by spotting the Gophers a 17-3 lead, forcefully shoving the ultimate nightmare scenario down Badgers fans' throats.

A loss to Minnesota, with not only the Axe on the line, but the Big Ten West division?

Oh hell naw.

The Badgers reeled off 24 unanswered points from the second quarter into the fourth, staying patient while surviving a Gophers team that opened strong, but couldn't sustain the momentum that produced 14 first-quarter points.

Wisconsin endured a Kenzel Doe fumble return on the first punt kicked his way, setting the Gophers up with a short field Two minutes into the game. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner punched it in two plays later on a 10-yard run.

Wisconsin responded with a 12-play, 69-yard drive, but it ended with a Rafael Gaglianone 24-yard field goal. The two teams then traded possessions before Minnesota running back David Cobb busted loose for a 40-yard touchdown. Cobb played through a hamstring strain that had cast his availability for the game into doubt all week, finishing with 25 carries for 118 yards.

The first quarter ended at 14-3 Minnesota, and the Gophers nailed a field goal to open the second quarter. That's when Wisconsin's run started. Melvin Gordon caught a 4-yard pass from Joel Stave, diving to pounce on a somewhat errant pass. Make no mistake, though -- Stave was sharp all game, going 11-of-18 for 215 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He displayed expert pocket presence throughout, frequently extending plays by sidestepping rushers and extending plays.

He also found a wide-open Alex Erickson on several occasions -- five, to be exact, for 160 yards. Erickson' career day served as a necessary complement for Gordon, who grinded his way to a 29-carry, 151-yard rushing performance. Gordon also tweaked his ankle late in the game and didn't return, though he *seems* ok.

We'll have much more on this game later on. But for now, go celebrate y'all. The Badgers are headed to Indy. They'll play Ohio State, which won the East Division two weeks ago, but also lost starting quarterback J.T. Barrett to an ankle injury on Saturday.