Gilreath, Brown give Wisconsin boost over Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Growing up in the Minneapolis suburb of New Hope, David Gilreath always dreamed of playing football in the Metrodome.

His Armstrong High School football team never made it to the state tournament here, so his first chance came on Saturday when his Wisconsin Badgers came to play Minnesota.

The wait was worth it for Gilreath, who put on an electrifying show for 22 friends and family in attendance, and tens of thousands of red-clad Badger faithful in the Dome.

Gilreath racked up 226 return yards to help Wisconsin (No. 25 BCS, No. 24 AP) to a 41-34 victory over Minnesota.

"I'm real excited," Gilreath said. "I never got to play in the Dome when I was in high school."

Zach Brown rushed for 250 yards and two touchdowns in place of the injured P.J. Hill for the Badgers (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten), who overcame injuries all season long to win at least nine games for the fourth year in a row, the first time that's happened in the program's history.

Adam Weber threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns for Minnesota (1-11, 0-8), who went winless in the Big Ten for the first time since 1983 and lost Paul Bunyan's Axe to their border rivals for the fourth straight year.

Gilreath initially committed to the Gophers last year but backed out when coach Glen Mason was fired.

New coach Tim Brewster was hired to replace Mason in January, but by then it was too late to convince the speedster to change his mind.

"I didn't think it was a big deal, the de-commitment," Gilreath said. "I think this was the best decision of my life."

It was easy to see why the Gophers wanted him. Gilreath had punt returns of 51 and 56 yards, the latter of which set up one of Brown's touchdown runs. He also returned the opening kickoff 36 yards to get Wisconsin off to a fast start.

"I thought he was really gassed up," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "He had a huge impact on the game, and hopefully some indications of more great things for him to come in the future."

He also had an impact on one of the key plays of the game without even touching the ball.

Trailing 27-20 with 13 minutes to play, the Gophers faced a fourth-and-10 from their own 41. Rather than chance another big return from Gilreath, Brewster called a fake, and punter Justin Kucek dashed around the end. But he came up 2 yards short of the first down, giving Wisconsin the ball at the Minnesota 49.

Brown and the Badgers drove down the field in four plays, culminating with a 16-yard TD pass from Tyler Donovan to Travis Beckum that made the score 34-20.

Weber and the Gophers hung in until the end but again came up short.

Ralph Spry turned a deflected pass into a 71-yard touchdown to cut Wisconsin's lead to 41-34 with 4:30 to go, but Donovan rushed for a key first down on fourth and inches late in the game.

Ben Strickland intercepted Weber's desperation pass with just over 1 minute left, sealing the victory for the Badgers, who were ranked as high as No. 5 this season before injuries and a blowout loss to Penn State derailed their conference title aspirations.

The Badgers are still hoping winning four of their last five games is enough for a New Year's Day bowl invitation.

"I think we showed we're a good football team," running back Bill Rentmeester said. "A lot of people will probably want to have us."

There will be no bowling this season for the Gophers, who lost games to North Dakota State and Florida Atlantic and at home to Bowling Green during a miserable first season for Brewster in the Twin Cities.

Brewster can take heart in the fact that he started a combined 13 underclassmen in the game on Saturday and hopes that this trying year will be a building block for better times.

Weber is a redshirt freshman and receiver Eric Decker, who caught six passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns and also set the school's single-season record for receptions, is just a sophomore.

"I couldn't be more proud of our football team," the always positive Brewster said. "We're going to be a much-improved football team next season. The vision and the direction of this program is in excellent shape and the potential of where we're going to go excites me greatly."