DeLeon Eskridge scored three rushing touchdowns, including the game-winner with 16 seconds left, as Minnesota notched a 38-34 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini in Big Ten action at Memorial Stadium.
The win snapped a nine-game skid for Minnesota (2-9, 1-6 Big Ten), which was the second-longest in the nation entering the weekend. Adam Weber threw for 225 yards and two scores for the Golden Gophers.
Nathan Scheelhaase gave Illinois a 7-0 lead on a 28-yard touchdown pass to Jenkins at the 8:12 mark of the opening quarter, capping a nine-play, 81-yard drive.
The second quarter belonged to the Golden Gophers, who knotted the score on Eskridge’s one-yard touchdown run with 11:26 to play in the second quarter.
Weber put Minnesota on top with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tiree Eure with 5:23 to play until halftime.
The Golden Gophers eventually got the ball back and closed the half with a late scoring drive, as Eric Ellestad’s 45-yard field goal with 10 seconds on the clock sent Minnesota to the locker room with a 17-7 halftime lead.
But Illinois opened the second half with a 12-play, 80-yard drive, punctuated by Leshoure’s 14-yard touchdown run to trim the margin to 17-14.
Minnesota fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, and Scheelhaase made it hurt by tossing a 17-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Harris to give the Fighting Illini the lead. However, they failed a two-point conversion attempt to keep it a three-point game.
The Golden Gophers took a 24-20 lead on Weber’s 24-yard scoring strike to Da’Jon McKnight with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter.
Illinois reclaimed the lead at the 10:44 mark in the fourth quarter, when Jason Ford scored on a four-yard run to polish off a seven-play, 65-yard drive.
On the very first play of their next drive, the Illini extended their lead to 34-24 on Leshoure’s 55-yard touchdown burst up the middle with 8:14 remaining.
Minnesota’s Troy Stoudemire returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards to the Illinois 4-yard line. Two plays later, Eskridge scored on a four-yard run to make it a 34-31 game with 7:55 to play.
The Golden Gophers’ final drive covered 80 yards in 2:28, setting up Eskridge’s game-clinching score from two yards out.
Minnesota converted 7 of 15 third downs for the game and scored touchdowns on all four of its trips to the red zone.