September 12, 2009

Badgers steal win with late field goal

MADISON, Wis. - Sixty minutes of football on a gorgeous Wisconsin afternoon was not enough to settle things between Wisconsin and Fresno State at Camp Randall Stadium.

One overtime was not enough either.

In fact, it took a Chris Maragos interception on the first play of double overtime to set up the Badgers come-from-behind 34-31 victory over a feisty Bulldog team that seemed poised for the upset.

Three plays later, on the Badgers ensuing drive, Philip Welch nailed a 22-yard field goal to make the win official.

"I know our guys are really, really fired up," UW head coach Bret Bielema said following the win. "That was a very, very good football team. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Pat Hill and what he's been able to do.

"This is a two-year battle with him now and I just have the utmost respect for their players and the way they competed."

For Wisconsin, the win caps the end to a hellacious week.

Early on in the week, Bielema announced at least 10 players were sick with flu-like symptoms. On Saturday, he revealed the actual number of sick players reached more than 40, six of which received IV's prior to Saturday's game.

So, for the Badgers to fight back from an early 14-0 and 21-7 deficit, in the heat and under the weather, it speaks volumes in regards to the heart the team showed.

"I told the team downstairs in the locker room that I doubt very much there is a team in college football this week that went through what they did," Bielema said. "From a preparation standpoint, to be tested the way they were physically with the flu bug. We had 40-plus guys out Tuesday that sucked it up.

"Some of them were practicing, some were throwing up at practice. Some didn't practice Wednesday, some of them did. Just to persevere and put themselves in a position to go through another overtime game and compete the way they did."

In the fourth quarter, UW finally got the ball back trailing 21-17 after Fresno State had ate up nearly ten minutes of the fourth quarter clock with a 16-play drive. And it didn't take long for UW to take its first lead of the game.

After faking an end around to David Gilreath, Tolzien handed the ball off to John Clay who burst through the gap and rumbled 72-yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

"I called it out in the huddle," Clay, who finished with 143 yards rushing on 21 carries said after the game. "I was like it's going to open up because the last couple of times, it opened up when we did the fake and nobody was there in that gap.

"Once they called the play, I was like, 'O-line, just be behind your pads and lead me through. I'm going to take it home."

Even with the late lead, the Badgers still needed to prevent Fresno State from scoring. On the ensuing drive, they held the Bulldogs to a three and out, forcing a punt. But after another quick three and out from the Badgers, Fresno State had one final opportunity to potentially tie or win the game.

After Brad Nortman punted out of his own endzone, Fresno State started its drive on its own 41 yard line. Seven plays and 35 yards later, the Bulldogs were able to set up Kevin Goessling for the game-tying 40-yard field goal that sent the game to overtime.

In all actuality, the Badgers dodged a bullet two plays earlier as Colburn barely overthrew an outstretched Darren Newborn for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown. Instead, they had to settle for the tying field goal.

The Bulldogs won the toss and elected to play defense in the first overtime session, but were unable to stop the Badgers. Facing third and five, Tolzien found Nick Toon (four catches, 49 yards) for the touchdown on a beautiful pitch and catch.

But Fresno came right back on their drive and scored on a nifty pass to the back of the endzone that Seyi Ajirotutu hauled in.

On the opening play of the second overtime session, Ryan Colburn was blitzed and didn't get much on the pass intended to a wide-open receiver. The ball hung in the air long enough for Maragos to make a play on it and record the defenses third interception of the half.

The rest is history.

"It was a shame about that last turnover," Fresno state head coach Pat Hill said. "It was just a little bit of an under thrown ball. I thought we had them beat off the post and the DB made a heck of a play cutting under it."

For Fresno State, the loss has to leave a sour taste in the mouth. The Bulldogs seemingly caught the Badgers off guard in the early going and jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

After UW's Zach Brown scored a touchdown to cut into the lead, the Bulldogs opened it back up to 21-7 following a 70-yard touchdown pass on their ensuing drive.

Fresno State quarterback Ryan Coburn was having a field day with the Wisconsin secondary and carved the Badger defense to the tune of 11-of-16 passing for 172 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.

But Wisconsin, led by steady and consistent Scott Tolzien under center, was able to rally the troops and fight back to within four at halftime following a 57-yard Philip Welch field goal at the end of the second quarter that seemingly swung the momentum.

A scoreless third quarter between both teams set up the dramatic fourth quarter and double-overtime finish to the game.

"I thought both teams played their hearts out," Hill said. "It was a hard-fought football game. Every game we've had with Wisconsin has been a down to the wire football game. We just came up short again this year and it was basically our miscues and them taking advantage of them."

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