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Best Game of Year?

November 23, 2008

Wisconsin didn’t exactly play its best football of the season Saturday against Cal Poly. Even so, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the best game they’ve played this year.

Don’t get me wrong, the second half comeback with two safeties against Minnesota was great. No really, it was.

Still, it doesn’t get much better in football than an overtime game at the collegiate level. While the NFL still seems to think overtime games should be decided by a coin flip, the NCAA does it the right way.

Saturday, as the Mustangs did all they could to give the game away to the Badgers, the game went from an all but certain Cal Poly victory to a thrilling 36-35 win in overtime for UW.

Now, here are ten reasons why this game was so great:

First: Cal Poly is an FCS team.

While the Mustangs average nearly 500 yards of offense and nearly 50 points per game, they still play FCS competition. Yet, coming in from sunny San Luis Obispo, Calif., to frigid temperatures at Camp Randall Stadium in front of more than 80,000 fans didn’t seem to faze them.

Cal Poly came in to one of the toughest places in to play in the country and ran up 20 points before the half – including a punt return for a touchdown and a pair of scoring drives of 60 yards or more.

Second: Wisconsin is a bowl-eligible FBS team.

Sure, they may not have looked like it at times this season, but the Badgers at the seventh-ranked team in the Big Ten, a major BCS conference. Against all odds, Wisconsin has played its way to a potential Insight Bowl berth in a season that began with Rose Bowl hopes and teetered on the edge of bowl ineligibility.

The Badgers needed a win against a tough Cal Poly team and they got it. It wasn’t pretty but they got the job done and that’s what matters.

Third: Cal Poly runs the Wing T, or what is essentially a high school offense.

Wisconsin players hadn’t played against the Wing T since high school and it showed early and often as Cal Poly ran the ball all over UW for more than 200 yards rushing.

Fourth: Wisconsin nearly broke Ramses Barden’s streak of consecutive games with a touchdown.

For four quarters, the Badgers kept one of the most prolific touchdown-scoring receivers in FCS history from scoring a touchdown. Something his last 18 opponents had been unable to do.

Fifth: Barden kept the streak alive on the first play of overtime.

Talk about a big play. On the first play of overtime, quarterback Jonathan Dally lobs the ball 30 yards into the end zone for an over-the-shoulder catch for Barden. Barden snags it and Cal Poly shocks the Badgers once again.

Sixth: Andrew Gardner missed three extra points.

As if missing the extra point in the fourth quarter weren’t enough, Gardner missed the ensuing XP following the Barden touchdown in overtime. Of all times to miss an extra point, overtime is not a good one to choose.

Seventh: John Clay stepped up when P.J. Hill struggled.

On a day where quarterback Dustin Sherer proved why he should have been the starter all along with impressive passes to receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath, Hill seemed unable to push the ball across the line of scrimmage outside of the red zone.

Fortunately for Wisconsin, Clay managed 107 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns on just 11 carries. Clay’s two touchdowns: a 17-yard run in the second quarter which stalled Cal Poly’s momentum and the six-yard game-tying touchdown in overtime.

Eighth: the Badgers’ success throwing the ball.

For much of the game, Wisconsin’s offense looked nothing like what fans have grown accustomed to seeing on a weekly basis.  Sherer completed several passes in the game to Gilreath, Toon and Isaac Anderson for big chunks of yardage. Gilreath finished with just four catches but managed 125 yards receiving on the day. Toon caught just two balls but gained 40 yards for the cardinal and white. Anderson, meanwhile, caught four balls for 55 yards, his longest reception going for 21 yards.

In the end, Wisconsin scored four touchdowns on the ground, but Sherer used his passing ability to move the ball for much of the game, something that excited fans time and again.

Ninth: it was senior day.

Nothing is better than a win in your final game as a Badger, except maybe playing the drums during the fifth quarter if you’re sophomores John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi. It would have been awful to send out one of the top senior classes in UW history with a loss to an FCS team in their final game at Camp Randall Stadium.

Instead, the Sherer, Clay & Co. managed to send them out on a high note – a thrilling overtime win for the first time in six years.

Last, but not least: Wisconsin is headed to a bowl game. No one is quite sure which one, but signs are pointing toward a Dec. 31 trip to Tempe, Ariz., to face a potential Big XII opponent in the Insight Bowl. Something no one would have expected at any point in the season until the past three weeks.

Ultimately, Saturday’s win over Cal Poly won’t go down in history as one of the most important victories for UW, but perhaps it was one of the most thrilling and bittersweet in recent years.

Wisconsin played its hearts out Saturday afternoon and it showed.

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