CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois secured bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2001 season, coming from behind to beat Ball State 28-17 on Saturday behind 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns from Rashard Mendenhall.
The Illini (6-3, 3-2) led just 7-3 at halftime and trailed 10-7 during the third quarter.
But Mendenhall and quarterback Juice Williams ground out the win for Illinois.
Mendenhall had just over 100 yards by halftime and went over 1,000 yards for the season.
Mendenhall touched the ball once and gained nothing during Illinois' first two possessions, both three-and-outs.
His first touchdown, a 2-yard run up the middle, came early in the second quarter and put Illinois up 7-0.
His last one was the game-winner.
Mendenhall took a handoff from Williams, found nothing inside, then bounced out around the right end and into open space before slicing into the corner of the end zone.
The extra point made the score 21-10.
Williams was just 7-of-15 passing with 145 yards and two interceptions. But he ran the ball 17 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
Quarterback Nate Davis completed 16 of 33 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown for Ball State (5-4, 3-2).
The Cardinals took advantage of one of Mendenhall's few mistakes to take their only lead.
Williams threw a third-quarter screen pass to Mendenhall that popped out of the running back's hands and right to sprinting Ball State linebacker Mike Dorulla. Dorulla ran untouched into the end zone to give the Cardinals a 10-7 edge less than 2 minutes into the third quarter.
But Illinois quickly answered, with Williams diving into the end zone on a 10-yard keeper 3 minutes later. Illinois never trailed again.
The Illini haven't been to a bowl game since the 2002 Sugar Bowl, a loss to LSU that capped a 10-2 season. That was Illinois' last winning season.
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