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LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska had what looked like a hard-earned victory snatched away.
Minnesota's Briean Boddy-Calhoun ripped the ball out of receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El's hands at the Gophers' 2-yard line with just over a minute to play, and the No. 21 Cornhuskers lost 28-24 on Saturday.
The Huskers (8-3, 4-3), humiliated at Wisconsin a week ago, lost back-to-back conference games for the first time since 2009 and were eliminated from the Big Ten West race.
Minnesota (8-3, 5-2), assured of its best Big Ten record since 2003, can win the West and go to the conference championship game on Dec. 6 with a victory at Wisconsin next week.
"We lost because we didn't deserve to win," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "We didn't play well enough, had too many busts, our execution was subpar. Our tackling was horrendous. Too much leaky yardage. All those things add up to losing against a good football team."
In spite of their problems keeping quarterback Mitch Leidner in check in the zone-read option game, the Huskers still were in position to win after Minnesota went ahead with 3:25 left.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. drove the Huskers from their 25 to the Minnesota 30 before throwing to Pierson-El, who caught the ball but had it stripped before he could reach the goal line.
"It's frustrating," Armstrong said. "You've got to learn from it. Mistakes, they happen. We just have to make sure we take care of the football."
The Gophers overcame a 14-point halftime deficit and played most of the second half without star running back, David Cobb, who injured his left hamstring after his 17-yard run pulled Minnesota within 21-14.
"I'm not going to tell you that winning in Lincoln, Nebraska, doesn't rank up there," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "That's not an easy thing to do."
Leidner led two long scoring drives that gave the Gophers the lead, with his 2-yard run making it 28-24.
Nebraska ends the regular season at Iowa on Friday.
"Effort-wise, they're good kids who want to win," Pelini said. "They're going to play hard and fight. But we've got to play smarter and execute at a higher level or we'll get the same result."
Leidner ran for a season-high 111 yards and two touchdowns, with many of his 22 carries coming on zone-read option keepers. Cobb had 15 runs for 80 yards before leaving the game.
Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah had 98 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, and Armstrong was 12 of 19 for 233 yards.
The Gophers were down 21-7 at half after Randy Gregory blocked Ryan Santoso's 30-yard field-goal attempt and Nate Gerry scooped up the ball and ran it 85 yards down the Nebraska sideline to the end zone.
"I didn't really see the block, but the ball was laying on the group and I just scooped it up and scored," Gerry said. "It was just a fun time."
Leidner said he and his teammates were unfazed by the sudden change in momentum.
"The way we were moving the ball, we just weren't finishing drives," he said. "We just had a feeling we were going to be able to go out there and put the drives together and finish them."
The Huskers had hoped to bounce back on senior day from their 59-24 loss at Wisconsin in which Melvin Gordon ran for then-FBS record 408 yards. Nebraska gave up 281 yards rushing to the Gophers after allowing 581 last week.
The Huskers lost center Mark Pelini and all-time leading receiver Kenny Bell to injuries two plays apart on their first possession. Mark Pelini has a high-ankle injury Bell has a head injury.