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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Late interception helps Gophers secure first Big Ten win against Illinois

Minnesota defensive back Duke McGhee (8) celebrates with defensive back Alex Strazzanti (40) after making a tackle for a loss in the first half against Illinois Saturday, Oct. 21, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports1 / 3
Minnesota wide receiver Tyler Johnson (6) catches a pass and runs in for a touchdown past Illinois defensive back Bennett Williams (4) in the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 21, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports2 / 3
Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Tyler Johnson (6) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against Illinois Saturday, Oct. 21, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports3 / 3

MINNEAPOLIS—Kobe McCrary rushed for 153 yards and Jonathan Celestin returned an interception for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter in Minnesota's 24-17 homecoming win over Illinois on Saturday, Oct. 21, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Both teams were looking for their first Big Ten win of the season and were locked in a 10-10 tie in the fourth quarter.

McCary capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive with a tackle-breaking 4-yard touchdown run that gave Minnesota a 17-10 lead with 4:20 left in the game.

On Illinois' first play of its ensuing drive, Celestin, a senior linebacker, picked off Illini quarterback Cam Thomas and raced into the end zone for a 31-yard return to put the Gophers up by 14.

Illinois got back within one score on a touchdown pass from Jeff George Jr. to Ricky Smalling with 23 seconds left. But Minnesota recovered the onside kick and stopped a multi-lateral play as time expired to give first-year coach P.J. Fleck his first Big Ten win.

The Gophers (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten) overcame three turnovers with a successful ground attack. Minnesota was without injured star running back Shannon Brooks but still managed to rack up 292 yards on the ground. Rodney Smith had 103 yards rushing for the Gophers.

Illinois (2-5, 0-4) rotated quarterbacks, with George and Thomas splitting time. George completed 18 of 23 passes for 128 yards with a touchdown. Thomas led the Illini with 79 yards rushing on 10 carries.

Minnesota scored on the game's opening driving, marching 72 yards in eight plays and grabbing a 7-0 lead on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Demry Croft to Tyler Johnson. Johnson, a sophomore receiver, has eight touchdowns on the season.

Croft completed 5 of 15 passes with a touchdown pass and two interceptions.

Illinois capitalized on Minnesota's first turnover with a 6-yard touchdown run by Ra'Von Bonner, tying the score 7-7 in the first quarter.

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