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Associated Press, Published November 14 2010

Gophers pick up first Big Ten football victory of the season

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Minnesota came to Illinois on Saturday as 21-point underdogs, with a long losing streak that cost coach Tim Brewster his job weeks ago and, you might think, leaving them little to play for.

Some fans spent the week e-mailing Jeff Horton, Brewster’s interim replacement, advising that senior quarterback Adam Weber see more of the bench so sophomore MarQueis Gray can start getting ready for next year.

The Fighting Illini wish Horton would have listened.

Weber threw for 225 yards on a wet, gray, windy Saturday and engineered a last-gasp touchdown drive that gave the Gophers (2-9, 1-6 Big Ten) a 38-34 comeback win. Tailback DeLeon Eskridge ran in the game-winning touchdown from 2 yards out with 16 seconds left to play, his third TD of the day.

As they drove down the field, the Golden Gophers felt like they had nothing to lose, Weber said.

“At this point in the season, there’s really no reason to feel nervous or on edge or anything, especially when you’re in a two-minute drive,” he said. “The biggest thing you have to do is stay calm, stay collected and try to score points.”

“Enough is enough,” Horton added. “Enough heartache, enough setbacks.”

The result leaves the Illini (5-5, 3-4) a game shy of bowl eligibility with only road games left at Northwestern and Fresno State, and wondering what’s happened to the defense that was once their strength. Illinois has given up 105 points over the past two games, including a 67-65 loss to Michigan.

“That’s two games in a row now that we haven’t handled the situations, two games in a row we haven’t tackled the way we’re capable of tackling,” Illini coach Ron Zook said in a postgame radio interview. “It was a team effort – we’re all going to suffer on this one.”

Minnesota’s win seemed to surprise the Gophers at least as much as it did the Illini. Gophers assistants who work in the press box ran through yelling “Yeah! We got one!” as soon as the game ended.

If not for Weber’s and Eskridge’s late-game magic – and two near interceptions that fell to the ground – it might have been Illinois assistants cheering a place in the postseason.

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 drive-saving yards to the Minnesota 49.

Illinois then had its two chances to finish the Gophers, and came up with neither.

First Weber tried to hit Gray – also one of the Gophers’ leading receivers – but instead found defensive back Tavon Wilson. Gray hit Wilson, knocking the ball away.

Then, with the ball at Illinois’ 6-yard line, Weber tried to force a pass to Da’Jon McKnight that defensive back Travon Bellamy had two hands on but dropped.

Finally, from the 2, Eskridge rescued the Gophers, slicing through the left side of his line and into the end zone.

Minnesota 0 17 7 14 – 38

Illinois 7 0 13 14 – 34

First Quarter

Ill – Jenkins 28 pass from Scheelhaase (Dimke kick), 8:12.

Second Quarter

Minn – Eskridge 1 run (Ellestad kick), 11:26.

Minn – Eure 14 pass from Weber (Ellestad kick), 5:23.

Minn – FG Ellestad 45, :10.

Third Quarter

Ill – LeShoure 14 run (Dimke kick), 9:40.

Ill – Harris 17 pass from Scheelhaase (pass failed), 7:59.

Minn – McKnight 24 pass from Weber (Ellestad kick), 4:50.

Fourth Quarter

Ill – Ford 4 run (Dimke kick), 10:44.

Ill – LeShoure 55 run (Dimke kick), 8:14.

Minn – Eskridge 4 run (Ellestad kick), 7:55.

Minn – Eskridge 2 run (Ellestad kick), :16.

A – 55,549.

Minn Ill

First downs 21 20

Rushes-yards 36-136 43-201

Passing 225 209

Comp-Att-Int 20-37-0 11-24-1

Return Yards 28 0

Punts-Avg. 6-32.7 6-39.8

Fumbles-Lost 3-1 1-0

Penalties-Yards 3-25 5-50

Time of Possession 31:55 28:05

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: Minnesota, Eskridge 14-49, Gray 10-40, Weber 6-37,

Bennett 6-10. Illinois, LeShoure 18-141, Scheelhaase 19-35, Ford 6-25.

PASSING: Minnesota, Weber 20-36-0-225, Gray 0-1-0-0. Illinois,

Scheelhaase 10-21-0-172, McGee 1-3-1-37.

RECEIVING: Minnesota, McKnight 5-70, Bennett 5-47, Lair 3-38,

Hoese 3-13, Gray 2-32, Eure 1-14, Allen 1-11. Illinois, Jenkins 6-137,

Sykes 2-32, Harris 2-30, LeShoure 1-10.