Gophers down Illinois to become bowl-eligible

Illinois suffers 12th consecutive Big Ten loss
Gophers down Illinois to become bowl-eligible

Minnesota 17, Illinois 3: Donnell Kirkwood rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns as visiting Minnesota defeated Illinois to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009.

Kirkwood scored on a tiebreaking 3-yard run with 2:31 left in the third quarter as the Golden Gophers (6-4, 2-4 Big Ten) won a conference road game for the first time in seven such outings under second-year coach Jerry Kill.

Illinois (2-8, 0-6) lost its seventh straight game and suffered its 12th consecutive Big Ten defeat.

Kirkwood scored from 12 yards out with 1:34 remaining to put the game away. The touchdown came three plays after Minnesota’s Derrick Wells recovered a fumble by Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and returned it 12 yards to the Illini 19-yard line.

The teams traded 20-yard field goals in the first half. Nick Immekus booted one for Illinois midway through the first quarter and Minnesota’s Jordan Wettstein knocked his through the uprights with 3:30 left in the half.

GAME NOTEBOOK: Golden Gophers leading receiver A.J. Barker missed his second straight game with an ankle injury. … Illinois had allowed an average of 41.0 points over its past six games before playing relatively well against Minnesota. … Kirkwood has 819 rushing yards and is the first Minnesota running back since Amir Pinnix (1,272) in 2006 to top 700 yards.