CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- DeLeon Eskridge rescued Minnesota from its tenth loss Saturday, leading the Gophers to a 38-34 comeback upset of Illinois with a last-minute touchdown run.
Eskridge scored three touchdowns for the Golden Gophers (2-9, 1-6 Big Ten) and rushed for 49 yards on 14 carries.
The last, a 2-yarder, came with 16 seconds to play and capped an 80-yard drive engineered by quarterback Adam Weber.
Trailing 34-31 and facing a third and 10 at his own 20 with 2:30 to play, Weber dropped back to pass and didn't see an open receiver. Instead he saw a huge hole in the middle of the Illinois defense, and ran straight into it for 29 yards and a first down at the Minnesota 49.
Six plays later Eskridge gave the Gophers the lead.
Weber, who some fans have said should give way to sophomore MarQueis Gray, was 20 of 26 for 225 yards and two TDs. He was seldom pressured by the Fighting Illini.
The loss keeps Illinois (5-5, 3-4) a game short of bowl eligibility. Illinois hasn't been to a bowl in three years.
With just over eight minutes to play, the Illini looked close to locking up that key sixth win when Mikel Leshoure burst around the right end for a 55-yard touchdown that, with the extra point, gave Illinois a 34-24 lead.
Leshoure finished with 141 yards on 18 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Badly needing an answer to Leshoure's potentially back-breaking run, the Gophers got a 92-yard kickoff return by Troy Stoudermire. Justin Green's tackle at the Illinois 4 only delayed the inevitable.
It was Eskridge this time, too, running 4 yards on second down for a score that pulled the Gophers back to within three at 34-31 with 7:55 to play.
The Gopher defense, which sacked quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase three times, quickly stopped the Illini on their next two possessions, not allowing Illinois even one clock-draining first down.
Minnesota led 17-7 at the half on Eskridge's first touchdown run, a scoring pass from Weber to Tiree Eure and a line-drive 45-yard field goal by Eric Ellestad.
Illinois turned that halftime deficit into a lead in the first eight minutes of the second half.
Leshoure's first touchdown ended an 80-yard drive that made the score 17-14.
Minutes later, Illinois linebacker Nate Bussey recovered a fumble by Gopher Eric Lair at the Minnesota 37.
From there, Scheelhaase guided Illinois to the 17, where he flawlessly led Spencer Harris on a crossing route into the end zone. Illinois blew the extra point, but was back in the lead, 20-17, with 7:59 to play in the third quarter.
Scheelhaase was 10 of 21 for 172 yards and two TDs. He found A.J. Jenkins six times for 137 yards and a touchdown.
Illinois has two shots left at the sixth win that would make it bowl eligible. Both are on the road, at Northwestern and Fresno State. Illinois hasn't been to the postseason since the 2008 Rose Bowl.
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