Illini Win on Senior Day

It was Senior Day in Champaign, IL and the Illini seniors were able to win in their final game inside Memorial Stadium. The Illini broke a fourteen game Big Ten losing streak and extended Indiana's Big Ten road losing streak to twelve games with a 26-22 victory.

Saturday afternoon's game started out like a train wreck on the field for the Illini as Indiana scored on their first play from scrimmage with an 80-yard bomb from Matt LoVecchio connected with Jahkee Gilmore. Indiana went on to score the first 19 points of the football game, leading Illinois 19-0 with 7:24 left in the first quarter.

That was when the Illinois offense and defense woke up. The Illini scored the next 14 points of the game with a 56 yard pass from Brad Bower to Kendrick Jones for the score to bring the Illini within 12 at 19-7. The next Illini score was just five minutes later when Brad Bower found Illini tight end Melvin Bryant in the end zone for a 16 yard touchdown pass. Heading into the second quarter, Illinois was just down five points at 19-14. There was no scoring in the second quarter as each team exchanged punts, and the score at halftime was 19-14 with Indiana in the lead.

The second half was best described as the Pierre Thomas show, as the sophomore running back carried the load of the Illini offense including a 44-yard touchdown run that pulled Illinois to within 22-20 after the Illini missed on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game.

It was now up to the Illini defense to stop the Hoosiers and give the Illini offense, now led by senior Jon Beutjer, a chance to win the game in front of the Senior Day crowd. The Illini defense was opportunistic as senior Kelvin Hayden intercepted a Hoosier pass and ran it back 33 yards to the Indiana 30 with just under four minutes left in the game. Illinois' offense went to its work horse, Pierre Thomas for the next seven plays. Thomas moved the ball to the Indiana two yard line, and on a called run, Jon Beutjer found an uncovered Kendrick Jones at the wide receiver spot, hiked the ball, and hit Jones with a lob pass for the game winning score.

This game could not have been won by the Illini without the play of punter Steve Weatherford. The Illini offense was stagnant until Ron Turner called a fake punt in the first quarter. Weatherford lined up in the punt formation, and ran the twelve yards for an Illini first down when the Illini were down 19-0 and things were looking grim in Champaign. The next play was Brad Bower's 56-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Jones, and the Illini never let go of the momentum after that.

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