Things started out great for Illinois (1-11, 0-8), who jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. With 8:25 left in the first quarter, John Gockman kicked a 37-yard field goal. When Northwestern got the ball back, the Illinois defense went to work. On third down, Wildcat QB Brett Basanez dropped back for one of his nine pass attempts and was picked off by Illinois safety Travis Williams, who ran the interception back 32 yards for a touchdown.
#24 Carey Davis end his career at Illinois Satuday
On their next possession, the Wildcats were able to make a mark on the scoreboard. Wright topped off a 59-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to pull Northwestern within 3 points of the Illini.
In the second quarter, Gockman split the uprights with a 45-yard field goal and the Illini went into the locker room with a 13-7 halftime lead.
Whatever adjustments that Northwestern coach Randy Walker made during the break apparently did the trick, because the ‘Cats outscored Illinois 30-7 in the second half. The Wildcats only attempted one pass in the second half and that was nullified by an Illini penalty. Everything else was a running play for Northwestern.
In the fourth quarter, Illinois was able to break into the end zone one last time during the 2003 season. Ibrahim Halsey put six points on the board with a one-yard touchdown run to close the scoring for the Illini.
The Illinois offense looked strong early with senior Dustin Ward at the helm. Ward later proved ineffective and was replaced in the third quarter by freshman Chris Pazan. Ward was 14 of 27 for 93 yards and three interceptions. A fierce wind and inaccuracy plagued Ward all afternoon. Pazan stepped in and completed 18 of 28 passes for 188 yards and one interception.
Illinois' rushing game was led by Carey Davis, who had 51 yards on seven carries, and Halsey who carried the ball 15 times for 49 yards and one touchdown. Ade Adeyemo was the leading receiver for Illinois, with 6 catches for 83 yards.
An announced crowd of 38,688 helped the Illini honor 21 seniors who played their last game in the orange and blue. The actual crowd appeared to be significantly lower, as many sections only contained a handful of people.
After the game, Illinois head Coach Ron Turner talked about the disappointing season.
"It's very tough to go through what we went through this year. It's very frustrating. It's tough obviously on those seniors. You don't want to see anybody go through this their last year. Especially this group of guys that has given us everything they've got."
Turner then attempted to pinpoint the main problems of his team during the 2003 campaign.
"There are two things, all year, that you can point at - turnover margin and inability to stop the run. If you can't stop the run, you have no chance of winning. If you turn the ball over, you have no chance of winning. If you do both of them, you really have no chance of winning."
As the Illini put the pads away and face another losing season with no bowl in sight, some questions must be answered in Champaign-Urbana. Who will play quarterback next year for the Illini? Who will makeup the coaching staff next year? With seven home games on next year's schedule, can the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics afford to have only 30,000 people attend games? Most importantly, has Ron Turner coached his last game at the helm of the Fighting Illini football team?