Minnesota 38, Illinois 34

By charliefillenwarth

Blank screen, blank stare. Tough loss last week, sucker punched this week. The outlook was Tampa or Texas, now it’s Detroit or nothing.

DeLeon Eskridge scored three touchdowns, two late in the fourth quarter, to lead Minnesota (2-9, 1-6 Big Ten) to a stunning 38-34 victory over Illinois at blustery Memorial Stadium. The loss keeps the Illini (5-5, 3-4) waiting for a chance to become bowl eligible.

After trailing 17-7 at halftime, it looked like Illinois had turned the corner. Mikel Leshoure scampered 14 yards for a touchdown to open the third quarter, and after a Minnesota fumble, Nathan Scheelhaase threw a 17-yard touchdown to Spencer Harris to take a 20-17. It was Harris’ first-ever touchdown catch.

Leshoure would add a 55-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to extend the Illini lead to 10. But Troy Stoudermire returned the ensuing kickoff to the Illinois 4, where Eskridge ran in his second touchdown. After a couple punts from each team, Minnesota drove 80 yards to score the game’s final touchdown with 16 seconds left, a two-yard Eskridge run.

Scheelhaase ended 10-21 for 172 yards and two touchdowns, while Leshoure had 141 yards on 18 carries. Leshoure now has 1,041 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. A.J. Jenkins had six catches for 137 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter.

Illinois will take a third shot at a bowl game next Saturday when they travel to Chicago to face Northwestern (8-3, 4-3) at Wrigley Field. The Wildcats defeated No. 13 Iowa 21-17 today, but lost quarterback Dan Persa to a ruptured Achllies’ tendon.

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