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.
Illinois (5-5, 3-4) still needs one more win to become bowl eligible, despite 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Mikel Leshoure, and 137 receiving yards and another TD from A.J. Jenkins.
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.