MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Shannon Brooks rushed for 174 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yard romp into the end zone with 1:25 remaining for Minnesota to seal a 32-23 victory over Illinois on Saturday.
Mitch Leidner threw a third-and-goal touchdown pass to Rashad Still with 5 seconds left before halftime, helping the Golden Gophers (5-6, 2-5 Big Ten) stop a four-game losing streak.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Black Ice, Frostbite Risk As Wind Chills Drop Below Zero Tuesday
Malik Turner caught 11 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown from Wes Lunt for the Fighting Illini (5-6, 2-5), who outgained the Gophers 432-343 in total yardage and had the ball for more than two-thirds of the second half.
Taylor Zalewski’s third field goal of the game brought the Illini within one point with 6:56 remaining, and the Gophers were forced to punt for a third time in the second half. The Illini took over with a one-point deficit and less than 5 minutes left at the 16, and an 11-yard sack by Julian Huff pushed them back.
Coach Bill Cubit called a screen pass that gained 2 yards on third-and-21 and then a punt, giving the Gophers the ball back. Brooks, the freshman from Atlanta, took care of the rest. Leidner ran in for the 2-point conversion to put the game out of reach.
Josh Ferguson had 105 yards on 20 carries to move onto the top-10 rushing list in Illinois history, setting up a short touchdown pass from Lunt to Andrew Davis that cut Minnesota’s lead to 21-20.
The sky was sunny, but the afternoon air was cold with a kickoff temperature of 22 degrees, the third-lowest in seven seasons for the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. The record was Nov. 15, 2014, a 15-degree kickoff against Ohio State.
The Gophers have won 11 of the last 15 games in this series, including five of the last seven.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Dangerously Cold Temperatures Tuesday; Wind Chills Below Zero
Both teams, now, will need to beat their biggest rivals next week to become bowl eligible. Illinois plays Northwestern in Chicago, which is officially a home game for the Illini, and Minnesota hosts Wisconsin. Only seven Big Ten teams have reached the six-win mark yet. Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska each have five victories, leaving officials from the lower-tier bowls sweating out the final few weeks with 80 postseason spots available and only 63 qualifiers when the day began.
The Illini and the Gophers have found themselves in similar situations this season, beyond being near the bottom of the Big Ten West Division. They’ve played challenging schedules and been ravaged by injuries.
Their athletic departments have been in turmoil at worst and in transition at best, and both teams have used interim head coaches this year. The difference is Minnesota has already promoted Tracy Claeys following Jerry Kill’s sudden retirement, and Cubit is still stumping at Illinois to keep the job beyond this season after taking over for the fired Tim Beckman.
Lunt, who leads the conference in completions despite a rash of drops by his receivers, found Turner open on third down for a 13-yard touchdown pass for the lead in the first quarter. With only five interceptions in 11 games, Lunt has had a solid junior season in Cubit’s offense.
The Gophers soon found a groove, though, and they capped a crisp first half with a 15-play, 74-yard drive that ended with Leidner’s pivot right on third down for a perfect 1-yard fade pass to Still at the edge of the end zone to give them a 21-13 lead. That was the offense’s 10th touchdown in a seven-quarter span.
Turning a first-and-goal at the 1 into a touchdown was a relief for the Gophers and their fans, who gave away a golden chance to beat Michigan in similar albeit more dramatic fashion here on Oct. 31.
Freshman cornerback KiAnte Hardin had a breakout game for Minnesota, with a pass-breakup in the end zone, a 32-yard kickoff return and a 60-yard kickoff return that set up Ryan Santoso’s 46-yard field goal in the third quarter.MORE NEWS: Bucktown Woman Shaken After Being Carjacked During Saturday Morning Spree, And She's Not The First Victim In Her Family
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