Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer, who missed the final five games of the 2003 season, stepped back on to Zuppke Field and threw three touchdowns as the Blue squad defeated the White team 31-21 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The Blue unit consisted of mostly starters, while the White unit contained mostly backups.
Beutjer started slow in the first quarter, while struggling to find his receivers. Buetjer overthrew a number of men and was sacked three times. Arthur Boyd, Lee Robinson and Cyrus Garrett were each able to corral the red-jersey clad quarterback.
The Blue team settled down towards the end of the first quarter when Beutjer found running back E.B. Halsey for a 36-yard completion to the 32-yard line of the White team. Five plays later, kicker/punter Steve Weatherford's 33-yard field goal attempt clanked off the left upright.
The first scoring drive of the game took place in the second quarter under the watch of reserve QB Chris Pazan. An 11-play, 65-yard drive was capped off when running back Marcus Mason scored from one yard out to give the White team a 6-0 lead. Weatherford tacked on an extra-point to make the score 7-0.
On the very next possession, the Blue group tied the game on a 2-yard touchdown plunge by Halsey and Weatherford's PAT. A 25-yard pass from Beutjer to fullback Jason Davis was the highlight of the 11-play, 70-yard scoring drive. The two teams went to the break deadlocked at 7-7.
The second half provided more offensive fireworks as the two squads got used to playing in game conditions.
With 6:11 left in the third quarter, Weatherford put the men in Blue up 10-7 with a field goal.
The White did not waste much time as they burned the Blue secondary on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Pazan to wide out DeJuan Warren. The big score came at the end of a 5-play, 75-yard drive with 4:30 left in the third and gave the White a 14-10 advantage.
Following the lead of the White team, the Blue came back right away and snatched back the lead at 17-14. Beutjer found wide receiver Lonnie Hurst for a 25-yard score with 1:37 left to play in the third.
Continuing the game of one-upmanship, the White team put together another prolonged drive and reclaimed the lead when standout freshman Brock Bolen crossed the goal line on a 2-yard run. Bolen's score was the final play in a 12 play drive that covered 75 yards and gave the White team a 21-17 lead with 6:00 left in the final quarter.
On the very next play, Ade Adeyemo was the recipient of a 70-yard touchdown heave from Beutjer. After the 10 second drive, the Blue team went ahead for good 24-21.
With 1:42 left in the exhibition, Beutjer connected with Davis on a 36-yard touchdown pass as part of a 65 yard drive. Weatherford's PAT gave the Blue team a 31-21 victory.
Beutjer led the Blue team with 17 completions on 29 attempts for 296 yards. On the ground, Pierre Thomas carried the ball with the Blue team 11 times for 64 yards and Halsey ran 14 times for 60 yards and one touchdown. The leading receiver for the Blue team was Adeyemo with 4 catches for 114 yards and one TD. Josh Tischer recorded 7 tackles to lead the Blue defense.
For the White, Chris Pazan was the leading passer going 8-for-14 for 123 yards and one touchdown. Marcus Mason was the leading rusher for the White team with gaining 31 yards on 12 carries and scoring one touchdown. Warren was the leading receiver on the white squad with 4 catches for 78 yards and one touchdown. Linebacker Antonio Mason paced the White defense with 11 tackles.
After the game, Coach Turner seemed pleased with the progress his group made during the spring session.
"I think we improved in all areas. We're hitting well and our defense has a lot of good energy. Our defense came out very energetic and after a while our offense responded."
Turner also praised his quarterbacks and running backs.
"Beutjer tried to force the issue at first, but then settled down. He has had a great spring and as you saw, he took all the reps with the Blue team. I'm pleased with the way the other guys played, too."
"We only played E.B. in the first half, because we wanted to get a look at Pierre (Thomas) with both teams. All the backs ran well. You look at Brock Bolen, here's a kid who should still be in high school and we challenged him and he responded like we thought he would."
Turner would not commit to a quarterback depth chart, but said they would no more after the film from the scrimmage is evaluated.
New Defensive Coordinator Mike Mallory likes the attitude his players are showing.
"We're starting to build a new attitude and the guys are responding in tough situations. We're not where we want to be, but we're getting better everyday.
Mallory was also asked about how far his unit has come during the spring session.
"From the start to now, we've shown good improvement. We're tackling better and our efforts better and we're hitting harder. Our struggles come when we don't trust our technique."
QB Beutjer talked about how it felt to be back in the swing of things.
"At first, I was pressing too much and trying to make too much happen. With Coach Turner's offense, good things can happen if you're patient. It helped to get a couple completions in a row, but I've got to give credit to the defense, who did a good job.
Beutjer also commented on how it felt to be in action once again and how his back is holding up.
"I was real excited to get back out and play in front of a crowd. When spring ball started, my back was pretty stiff, but it has made improvement everyday.
The Fighting Illini will play seven home games for the first time in school history in the 2004 season, including a home game every Saturday in September. Illinois kicks off the season against the Rattlers of Florida A&M on Saturday, September 4th.