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Wisconsin stumbles into Big Ten title game

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin isn't about to apologize.

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Yes, the Badgers (7-4, 4-3) are stumbling into the Big Ten title game after a 21-14 overtime loss to No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday. Currently third in the Leaders Division, they've basically been gifted a shot at playing for the Rose Bowl because the Buckeyes and Penn State, the two teams ahead of them, are ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA violations.

But it's not as if that's their doing.

``We don't control that,'' quarterback Curt Phillips said. ``We just have to make the most of this opportunity.''

Make no mistake, the Badgers badly wanted to beat Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) to prove they're worthy of being in the Big Ten title game. Get a little payback from last year, too, when a struggling Buckeyes squad stunned the Badgers on a desperation heave in the closing seconds.

They came close, forcing overtime when Phillips found Jacob Pederson for a 5-yard score with eight seconds left in regulation. But Carlos Hyde gave the Buckeyes a quick lead, and Wisconsin could find nothing on offense in the extra period.

It was their second straight loss in overtime at Camp Randall, following a 16-13 loss to Michigan State last month. The Badgers' four losses this season have been by a total of 16 points.

``It hurts to do everything you can in your power and still fall short,'' Montee Ball said. ``And it's happened twice to us, back to back at home. It's not a good feeling.''

The lone bright spot for the Badgers was that Ball scored his 78th touchdown in the second quarter, tying the major college career record set by Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio) in 1999. Ball had a chance to claim the record for himself, but he fumbled at the goal line with less than three minutes left in regulation.

Ball leaped over a scrum with the ball held in front of him, and Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier punched it loose.

``It's a teaching moment for everybody, players and coaches,'' coach Bret Bielema said. ``I had this flash in my mind when we were running up to the line for that play, `Don't jump. Don't jump.' Because I knew (Ball) was doing anything he could to get in the end zone. And I can't discredit him for the effort.''

This whole season has been a series of teaching moments for the Badgers.

The year began with Ball being attacked just before training camp opened, leaving him with a concussion that kept him out of practice and slowed him at the start of the season. Starting quarterback Danny O'Brien was benched after three games and replaced by Joel Stave, only to have him break his collarbone against Michigan State. Phillips now is getting the first starts of his career after being sidelined by three ACL surgeries.

Oh, star linebacker Chris Borland missed Saturday's game against the Buckeyes, too.

Every week seems to bring a new challenge, and just withstanding them ought to count for something. On Saturday, Wisconsin outplayed the Buckeyes for most of the second half after falling behind 14-0. Wisconsin held the Buckeyes to 236 yards of offense, more than 200 yards below their average, and only allowed them to cross midfield once after halftime.

But the Badgers also got the ball at their own 35 or better four times, and only came away with one touchdown.

``It's times like these when you really, really find out what kind of people you have,'' Bielema said. ``This is when things would fall apart. ... The guys keep buckling up and playing, and it really shows the true character of who you are. I'm very, very proud of them. But being proud of them won't get them a win.''

The Badgers will keep trying, however. They have another chance to show they're worthy of that Big Ten title game next week, when they travel to Penn State.

``We're just going to make sure we correct our mistakes going to Penn State, and to play hard and finish off the regular season right,'' Ball said. ``I'm sure winning in Indy and going to the Rose Bowl and winning there would erase all the losses we've had. Because that's our goal.''

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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