Back and forth game goes Minnesota’s way

football at university of Illinois, gophers win.

Ali Haupt

football at university of Illinois, gophers win.

In Hollywood, they call it a âÄúfalse endingâÄù when an audience thinks a movie is over, only to find that it still drags on. There were plenty of false endings Saturday. The Gophers football team appeared to put the game away several times in the fourth quarter and couldnâÄòt, but eventually did upset Illinois, 27-20. âÄúIt was one of those games where we did everything we could to win,âÄù quarterback Adam Weber said, âÄúand we did almost everything to lose, too.âÄù Weber finished 18-for-26 for 84 yards and a touchdown. After holding the Big TenâÄôs second-ranked offense to just three points in the first half, the Gophers took a 20-6 lead on DeLeon EskridgeâÄôs career high 46-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Just one minute and 10 seconds later, however, Illini quarterback Juice Williams completed a 54-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Jenkins. The Gophers put together a nine-play drive, but had to punt, giving Illinois the ball with a chance to tie the game. On the first play of the drive, senior Willie VanDeSteeg punched the ball out of WilliamsâÄô arm, which linebacker Simoni Lawrence picked up and ran into the end zone. Suddenly, the Gophers, 12-point underdogs, led 27-13 with just over five minutes left. âÄúIâÄôm a senior and a captain. I have to step up and make a play. ThatâÄòs my job,âÄù VanDeSteeg said. âÄúThose last five minutes are probably the most fun IâÄôve ever had playing football. Back-and-forth, back-and-forth; thatâÄôs what you play football for.âÄù The small Minnesota fan section hadnâÄôt even stopped cheering when Williams again found Jenkins for a touchdown, putting them back within seven. On MinnesotaâÄôs next drive, Ralph Spry caught a 17-yard pass, but was hit by two defenders and fumbled the ball. It was MinnesotaâÄôs only turnover of the game, and gave Illinois the ball at midfield with 2:31 left and all of their timeouts. âÄúSeemed like it was just one crazy event after another,âÄù tight end Jack Simmons said. âÄúIt was another time you maybe thought we had the dagger in. Pretty nerve wracking to be on the sideline.âÄù Illinois again had little trouble moving the ball, driving to MinnesotaâÄôs 25-yard line with a minute left. On second down, Williams threw toward the end zone but was hit by a charging VanDeSteeg. The ball popped up and sophomore Ryan Collado emerged from a group of Illinois receivers to intercept it. The Gophers needed just one first down to clinch the game. On second down, Eskridge pounded forward and got it, as the team celebrated its first Big Ten road win since Nov. 18, 2006. But the Hollywood ending just wouldnâÄôt wrap up. Officials reviewed the play and announced they were moving the ball back to the 28 1/2 yard line, with the first down being at the 29. The Gophers lined up in a shotgun formation and handed it to Eskridge who was stopped at the line. With 33 seconds left, the Gophers were forced to punt. On the final play of the game, Williams lobbed a pass into the end zone that was nearly caught by a pack of Illinois receivers, but bounced away. Finally, the credits rolled.