2 Special team gaffs cost Bears against Pats

Tom Brady held his breath as he watched the final play unfold from the sideline.He saw Mitchell Trubisky heave the ball toward the goal line, Kevin White haul it in and a swarming defense keep the ball out of the end zone. That was just enough to preserve another victory for New England.Brady threw for three touchdowns and the Patriots hung on to beat the Bears 38-31 Sunday when White got stopped at the 1 on a 54-yard pass from Trubisky.About four or five defenders swarmed White after he leaped to haul in that long heave and spun toward the goal line. Some Bears players tried to push him across. But he got stopped just short of the goal line, sealing the fourth straight win for New England.

”You hold your breath when I saw him jump up and catch it,” Brady said. ”I didn’t have the angle on the goal line. He was getting close to the end zone. They were pushing and we were pushing. It was probably a half yard or a yard, pretty close. Good for us to hold them out.”

Even if the execution wasn’t perfect.

”Just too many people around the ball,” said Josh Gordon, who was in on the play. ”I went up to grab it. Somebody else went up to grab it. There was pushing and pulling, everything like that. He ended up with it so it was a great play. … Fortunately enough, we were able to hold him out of the end zone.”

As for White?

”Just tried to fight and get in,” he said. ”Tried to change the game, make a big-time play. So after I caught it, I thought I had a chance, like I said, for a split-second and once I felt a bunch of guys I knew it was over.”

The Patriots (5-2) also got two special teams touchdowns and came out on top even though they were without Rob Gronkowski.The five-time Pro Bowl tight end missed the game because of ankle and back injuries. But New England squeezed past the Bears (3-3).Brady improved to 5-0 against Chicago, one of five teams yet to beat him. He was 25 of 36 for 277 yards and an interception.Cordarrelle Patterson ran a kickoff back 95 yards for his sixth career return TD. Kyle Van Noy became the first New England player in 22 years to return a blocked punt for a touchdown.Gordon caught four passes for 100 yards. He spun past a tackler on a 55-yarder early in the fourth that put the ball on the 1 and set up a 2-yard reception by James White to make it 38-24 with 8:40 left.White had 57 yards receiving and two TDs. He also ran for a team-high 40 yards.Julian Edelman had a touchdown catch. Rookie running back Sony Michel left in the second quarter because of a knee injury. But the Patriots beat the Bears for the eighth time in nine games since the 1985 team got routed in the Super Bowl.The Bears hve dropped two in a row after winning three straight to take sole possession of the NFC North lead for the first time since 2013. The Bears’ three losses are by a combined 11 points.

”Coming up 1 yard short and not tying the game and going to overtime, that’s not good enough anymore,” Trubisky said.

Star pass rusher Khalil Mack was largely a non-factor after being listed as questionable because of an ankle injury he suffered last week at Miami, often dropping back in pass coverage. And Trubisky struggled with his accuracy, though coach Matt Nagy didn’t quite see it that way.

”A lot of people were out of rhythm,” he said.

The second-year pro completed 26 of 50 passes for 333 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for a career-high 81 yards and a score.Trey Burton had nine receptions for a career-high 126 yards, including an 11-yard TD with 4:13 remaining.Van Noy is the first New England player to return a blocked punt for a TD since Tedy Bruschi against Baltimore in 1996.He scooped up the ball and returned it 29 yards after Dont’a Hightower blocked Pat O’Donnell’s attempt, giving the Patriots a 31-24 lead with just under six minutes left in the third.It was also the first blocked punt return for a TD against the Bears since the New York Giants’ Tom Flynn recovered one in the end zone on Sept. 14, 1987.

Bolts all over Hawks in second period for 6-3 win

Brayden Point had a goal and two assists and the Tampa Bay Lightning peppered the Blackhawks with 33 shots in a three-goal second period in a 6-3 victory Sunday night.The 33 shots are the most in a period since 1997-98, when shots by period became an official NHL statistic.Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman each had a goal and assist, and Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde also scored as Tampa Bay fired a team-record 55 shots. Ryan Callahan added an empty-netter with 2:05 left.Blackhawks rookie Alexandre Fortin scored his first NHL goal to tie it late in the first, but the Lightning took charge with their speed and exploited mistakes to skate away with the win.David Kampf and Nick Schmaltz scored late in the third period.Schmaltz’s power-play goal with 3:48 left was awarded after a video review showed the puck had crossed the goal line within the glove of goalie Louis Domingue. It was the first power-play goal allowed by the Lightning in 29 chances this season.Domingue made 33 saves in his second start this season. No. 1 goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy got a night off following a 5-4 overtime loss at Minnesota on Saturday.Cam Ward got the start in goal and made 49 saves as the Blackhawks played their third game in four days.Corey Crawford was solid in the two contests, including a 4-1 win at Columbus on Saturday, as he returned from a concussion that had sidelined him since last December.The Lightning took the first six shots of the game, but the Hawks came on late and outshot Tampa Bay 17-12 in a first period that ended tied at 1.Kucherov opened the scoring 3:21 in after receiving Victor Hedman’s long stretch pass at the blue line and sprinting in alone past defensemen Brent Seabrook and Erik Gustafsson.Kucherov finished by beating Ward by lofting a backhander over Ward’s glove.Fortin tied it at 1 at 11:40 when he broke alone from the Tampa Bay blue after taking a long pass from Jan Rutta, who whipped the puck from corner of his own zone. After faking, Fortin fired between Domingue’s pads.Ward was peppered and came up with tough saves throughout the game to prevent a blowout.But Domingue’s right-toe stop on Patrick Kane during a Hawk power play with 1:40 left in the first period was the flashiest. Kane sped down left wing, took a cross-ice pass and fired from the circle, but Domingue kicked out his legs and spun like a windmill to deny the attempt.The Lightning took charge in the second, building a 4-1 lead while outshooting the Hawks 33-6.Cirelli made it 2-1 at 4:22 of the period when he kept poking at a puck from a scrum at the right side of the net and eventually knocked it in.Gourde increased it to 3-1 at 12:07 when he slipped between two defenders, took Ondrej Palat’s feed from below the goal line and connected from the slot.Point’s goal’s 1:54 later, on a rebound of Kucherov’s shot put Tampa May in charge, 4-1.Hedman pinched down to the left circle to make it 5-1 midway through the third.Kampf connected from the slot with 4:43 left to cut it to 5-2.Schmaltz made cut it to 5-3 55 seconds later, but Callahan’s empty-netter sealed it.

NOTES—The 21-year-old Fortin played in his fifth NHL game. Fortin, who recorded his first assist on Saturday at Columbus, was signed by the Blackhawks as a free agent in September 2016 after skating in the Quebec Major Junior League. . Although Crawford got the night off, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he was delighted with the performance of his team’s long-time No. 1 goalie in his first two games since Dec. 23, 2017. ”He’s made great progress,” Quenneville said. ”An outstanding first two games. Last night (Saturday at Columbus) was a goalie win, and he felt good after too.”

Crawford red hot as Hawks beat Jackets 4-1

COLUMBUS—In just his second game back after a nearly 10-month absence, Corey Crawford showed he is already in top form.Crawford stopped 37 shots to get his first win since late December, and Patrick Kane had two goals and an assist, as the Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 Saturday night.

”It was nice to see him play like that,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ”It was vintage (Crawford).(He) is under the radar. … We value his contribution to the success of this team, to keep us in games, winning games for us. He is as good as there is in the game.”

Crawford was playing his second game since a season-ending concussion suffered in a win at New Jersey last Dec. 23. He gave up three goals on 30 shots in a 4-1 loss at home to Arizona on Thursday night.Crawford said despite his lengthy break, he felt as comfortable as ever in net.

”It felt really good,” Crawford said. ”I think everyone was playing hard, rebounding, taking away sticks. It was a great effort by everyone.”

Alex DeBrincat and Marcus Kruger also scored for the Hawks, who earned a point for the sixth time in seven games (4-1-2).Zach Werenski scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 22 saves.With the score tied 1-1, the Blue Jackets appeared to take the lead late in the first period when Boone Jenner forced the puck low past Crawford on the left side, but the goal was waved off for pushing the goalie into the net.Kruger put the Blackhawks ahead for good when he tipped a wrister from Alexander Fortin past Bobrovsky at 7:43 of the third.

”I thought we played a really good hockey game, our best of the year,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. ”We just lost our patience the last five minutes.”

Kane then got his sixth goal of the season from the middle of the left circle with 4:14 left, after a costly turnover in the neutral zone by Columbus’ Cam Atkinson.Kane’s empty netter with 1:37 remaining capped the scoring.The Blackhawks got on the board at 3:48 of the first period with their first shot of the game, as DeBrincat buried a pass from Dominik Kahun from the front of the net. The goal extended DeBrincat’s scoring streak to seven games.The Jackets pulled even when penalties to the Blackhawks’ Henri Jokiharju and Atkinson opened up the ice for Werenski, who carried the puck from the red line and fired a wrister that beat Crawford with 7:51 left in the opening period.

”Their goalie was hot, and we weren’t bearing down,” Werenski said. ”We weren’t hungry enough. We played a pretty good hockey game. We just have to be hungry around the net.”

NOTES—Kane and DeBrincat are now tied for the Blackhawks’ lead in goals (7) and points (11). … Brandon Davidson, a veteran of 152 NHL games with Edmonton, Montreal and New York Islanders, made his Blackhawks debut. …. Columbus has scored in six of its seven first periods this season. … Bobrovsky was playing in his 400th career NHL game. His career record fell to 220-132-36.

Cats struggle, but get by Scarlet Knights 18-15

Northwestern Wildcats (1981 - Pres)

PISCATAWAY—With a game for first place in the Big Ten West on the horizon against No. 23 Wisconsin, Northwestern almost got caught looking past lowly Rutgers.Isaiah Bowser scored on a 5-yard run with 8:12 to play and Northwestern avoided a major letdown by converting two fourth-downs plays on the game-winning drive in a much-harder-than-expected 18-15 win on Saturday.

”We had confidence in them the whole game,” Wildcats defensive end Joe Gaziano said of his offense. ”We knew that they could put the points up (we) needed to score and needed to win the game, so I think in the fourth quarter we kind of looked at each other and said, `let’s do this.”’

The Wildcats (4-3, 4-1) did, just barely, scoring the final 11 points and limiting Rutgers (1-7, 0-5) to a field goal in the second half.The win set up a showdown at home Saturday against Wisconsin, which beat Illinois 49-20. The Badgers (5-2, 3-1) and Iowa (6-1, 3-1) are a half game behind Northwestern in the West. Iowa beat Maryland 23-0 Saturday.

”It feels great, like I said. All the guys in the locker room are supporting me and saying congratulations and everything and it was a great win,” said Bowser, who rushed for 108 yards on 24 carries. He also scored the opening touchdown on a 3-yard run after Rutgers hurt itself by muffing the opening kickoff and being forced to punt from its own 5.

Drew Luckenbaugh added a 23-yard field goal for the Wildcats who won their third straight game overall and sixth straight on the road. Clayton Thorson hit Flynn Nagel on a 2-point conversion pass after Bowser’s go-ahead run.Thorson drove the offense 63 yards in 11 plays for the game winner. He ran 4 yards on a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-1 from his own 46 early in the drive and he hit Nagel on a 10-yard pass on a fourth-and 4 from the Rutgers 15. Bowser scored on the next play.

“‘Their defense played really well,” said Thorson, who was 17 of 34 for 150 yards. That’s the best we’ve seen them play.NU coach Pat Fitzgerald wasn’t surprised his team struggled against Rutgers in the Scarlet Knights’ Homecoming.

”That’s Big Ten football, man,” he said. ”Win and advance. It doesn’t matter about style points. It’s probably really good discussion on your guys blog sites, but I don’t care, to be crystal clear. Find a way to win.”

Isaih Pacheco scored on a 44-yard run for Rutgers (1-7, 0-5), which lost its seventh straight game. Justin Davidovicz kicked field goals of 42 and 26 yards, while Willington Previlon had a sack for a safety.Rutgers, which had not led in the second quarter of a game since a season-opening win over Texas State, led 12-7 halftime lead.Davidovicz got the Scarlet Knights on the board with a 42-yard field goal. Pacheco gave Rutgers a 10-7 lead with the Scarlet Knights’ longest play from scrimmage on offense with 5:09 left in the half. Previlon sacked Thorson for the safety 1:38 before halftime.They just could not hold on.

Badgers run roughshot over Illini in Snow and wind

Illinois Fighting Illini

MADISON—Wisconsin bounced back from a devastating loss to maintain its hopes of a West Division title and a return to the Big Ten championship game. Jonathan Taylor rushed for 159 yards and Taiwan Deal ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns as the Badgers took advantage of five first-half turnovers to rout Illinois 49-20 on Saturday.Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) was coming off a 38-13 loss at Michigan that buried its national championship hopes. Next week the Badgers face a division matchup at Northwestern (4-3, 4-1), which rallied to edge Rutgers 18-15 on Saturday.The Badgers have played in five of the seven Big Ten championship games, losing their last three appearances in Indianapolis, including a 27-21 loss to Ohio State last season.

”Indy is still in front of us. We can control all that by just winning football games,” Wisconsin offensive guard Michael Deiter said.
Wisconsin, which has won nine straight against Illinois (3-4, 1-3), had three interceptions and recovered two fumbles on the way to building a 28-10 halftime lead. Alex Hornibrook, coming off an awful outing in a loss at Michigan, threw three touchdown passes and two interceptions.

”Each game’s really different, so it’s not like we were trying to do something from last week into this week,” Hornibrook said. ”We just kind of approach it as a new week and played well, I thought.”

Illinois turned Hornibrook’s second interception into a 10-yard scoring drive to make it 28-17 early in the third quarter, but Wisconsin countered with a pair of touchdowns to push the lead to 42-17.

”When you go on the road and you’re playing a good football team like we were, playing against the University of Wisconsin, there are some things that you have to be able to do,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. ”Number one, you have to protect the football. The turnover ratio, of course, is big each week, but offensively we needed to hold onto the

ball. You can’t turn over the ball that many times.”
The Badgers opened with an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped by Ingold’s 1-yard run. On the ensuing possession, linebacker T.J. Edwards returned an interception 28 yards to the Illinois 25-yard line and two plays later freshman Aron Cruickshank scored on a 23-yard jet sweep to put Wisconsin up 14-0.Illinois was 2 of 12 on third downs and all three interceptions occurred on third down.

Heat gets to Bears who fall to Phins in OT

 

MIAMI GARDENS—Kicker Jason Sanders turned teammate Kenyan Drake’s fumble into a footnote.Drake lost the ball when the Miami Dolphins were on the verge of victory, but thanks to Sanders it didn’t matter. The rookie made a 47-yard field goal as time expired in overtime Sunday for a 31-28 victory over the Bears.Miami’s Brock Osweiler threw for a career-high 380 yards and three touchdowns subbing for Ryan Tannehill, who sat out because of an injured throwing shoulder.
“‘Today felt like a heavyweight title fight,” Osweiler said. ”What this team did today was so special. Nothing was perfect, but in the end we found a way.”
The Dolphins took the kickoff to start overtime and marched 74 yards, but Drake fumbled just before crossing the goal line. Eddie Goldman recovered for the Bears.They drove to the Miami 35, but former Dolphin Cody Parkey was wide right on a 53-yard field goal try with 2 minutes left. Drake then had a 15-yard reception to help set up Sanders’ field goal.When the ball sailed between the uprights, Drake sank to both knees on the field and bowed his head in gratitude and relief.Albert Wilson turned two short passes into long touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the Dolphins, who overcame an 11-point deficit in the final 16 minutes of regulation.
”It was definitely a roller coaster,” Wilson said.
Miami (4-2), which began the day tied with New England for the AFC East lead, ended a two-game losing streak. The Bears (3-2) had a three-game winning streak snapped but remained atop the NFC North.
”Games like this sting,” receiver Allen Robinson said. ”It stings for everybody.”
The Bears’ offense came alive after they trailed 7-0 at halftime. Miami then rallied from a 21-10 deficit to tie the game twice and force overtime.Mitchell Trubisky threw for 316 yards and three second-half touchdowns, but the Bears were hurt by two turnovers in the red zone. Jordan Howard lost a fumble at the 1, and Trubisky was intercepted in the end zone by T.J. McDonald.Trubisky a threw a 29-yard pass to Anthony Miller for a go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter, but Miami needed only one play to tie it again, with the dynamic Wilson weaving through the secondary for a 75-yard score.Wilson earlier scored on a 43-yard catch and run.
”Once I get going, I’m going to make guys miss,” Wilson said.
Tarik Cohen scored on a 21-yard run and had a 50-yard catch and run. Kyle Fuller had two interceptions, the second of which set up a Bears touchdown.But Miami contained Khalil Mack, ending his streak of at least one sack and one forced fumble in every game this season. The Bears, who were averaging 4 1/2 sacks per game, totaled none.
”That ain’t what you expect with what we have up front,” said Mack, who was slowed by an ankle injury suffered early in the game.
Miami netted 541 yards without Tannehill, who had been nursing a shoulder injury for several weeks. He worked out before the game, and it was then decided he should sit.Frank Gore rushed for 101 yards. Osweiler, who signed with Miami as a free agent in March, went 28 for 44 and led the Dolphins to their highest point total of the year.
”That’s why he’s here,” coach Adam Gase said. ”He treats it as though he’s going to have to go in the game, so that puts him in a great position.”
NOTES—CB Prince Amukamara (left hamstring) left in the second half.

Both goalies torched as Leafs edge Hawks 7-6 in O.T.

John Tavares had three goals and the Toronto Maple Leafs spoiled the Blackhawks home opener with a 7-6 victory.

”Top to bottom we had contribution everywhere,” Tavares said.

Matthews had two goals and two assists for Toronto in the opener of a four-game trip. Rielly also had two assists and Kasperi Kapanen finished with a goal and an assist, helping the Maple Leafs bounce back from Saturday night’s 5-3 loss to Ottawa.Garret Sparks, who is from Elmhurst, made 25 saves to get the win in his first NHL game since 2016.

”I went up against my childhood heroes tonight and there’s nothing cooler than that,” the 25-year-old Sparks said.

The Hawks were looking for its first 3-0 start since the 2012-13 season, but it was unable to clamp down on Toronto’s high-scoring lines. Kane scored twice in the final two minutes of regulation, and defensemen Duncan Keith and rookie Henri Jokiharju each had three assists.

”It was a pretty crazy game,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ”The quality of chances, the quantity of goals, the way it ended was a different level of unpredictability.”

It was Tavares’ first hat trick since he agreed to a $77 million, seven-year contract with Toronto in July, choosing his hometown team over several other suitors in free agency. The contract ramped up expectations for the Leafs, and the talented center is already having an effect on his new franchise.

”(I) want to be as consistent as I can so I prepare myself and expect a lot of myself on a nightly basis, with and without the puck,” Tavares said.

Tavares’ last goal made it 5-4 midway through the third, but the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks were just getting started. Especially Matthews and Kane.Kane tied it again from a bad angle with 1:24 remaining, shooting it past a screened Sparks. Then Matthews put the Maple Leafs back in front just 22 seconds later, beating Cam Ward from between the circles before holding his glove to his ear as if he was asking for more noise from the United Center crowd.With the third period winding down, Kane wasn’t done quite yet. He one-timed a big slap shot by Sparks with 29 seconds left, and then held his glove to his ear in response to Matthews.

”I wasn’t really happy when he did it, so it was nice to get a chance to score and kinda give it back to him,” Kane said. ”Wish we could have got another one in overtime.”

But Rielly closed it out quickly in OT, sending a low wrist shot past Ward on the glove side.Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, John Hayden and Brandon Manning also scored for the Blackhawks, who opened the season with two overtime wins. Ward finished with 27 stops.The Blackhawks got off to a fast start after an emotional pregame tribute to Hall of Fame forward Stan Mikita, who spent his entire 22-year NHL career with the franchise and died in August at age 78. Mikita’s wife, Jill, wiped away tears after a video of Mikita highlights was shown on the videoboard, and she was joined by Tavares and Toews for a ceremonial puck drop.The Blackhawks wore patches with Mikita’s No. 21 on their jerseys, and No. 21 was painted on the ice behind each goal.Toews then put the Hawks in front when he tipped home Dominik Kahun’s shot, and DeBrincat made it 2-0 when he finished off a pretty passing sequence 12:02 into the first. It was Toews’ fifth goal in three games; he needed 19 games to score five times last season.Toronto responded with two goals in a 34-second span on plays by Kapanen and Matthews. First, Matthews made a perfect pass ahead to Kapanen for a breakaway at 14:09. Then Kapanen stripped Keith behind the net and found Matthews for the tying score.

Cats use good defense to stop Michigan State29-19

Northwestern Wildcats (1981 - Pres)

EAST LANSING—On a day when Northwestern had little choice but to pass early and often, Clayton Thorson was up to the task.Thorson threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns, and the Wildcats recovered from another second-half slip to beat No. 20 Michigan State 29-19 on Saturday.The Spartans (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) entered with the nation’s top-ranked run defense and held Northwestern (2-3, 2-1) to 8 yards on the ground, but it didn’t matter. The Wildcats moved the ball consistently well through the air, and Michigan State’s offense was mostly inept except for a brief stretch in the third quarter.

”I think this was one of my best games in responding when bad things happen,” Thorson said. ”We don’t win a lot when I throw two picks. So really credit to our guys for staying in it.”

Thorson threw a 21-yard scoring pass to Cameron Green with 15 seconds left in the third, and a 2-point conversion gave Northwestern a 22-19 lead.The Wildcats missed a field goal with 6:41 to play, but Michigan State went 15 yards backward on the ensuing possession and had to punt. The Spartans held again defensively, and on the next possession, they had second-and-1 from their own 11. After two near-sacks, running back Connor Heyward was stopped on fourth down. Thorson scored on a 2-yard run to make it a 10-point game with 2:51 left.

”We’ll find the answers. I feel pretty confident in that,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. ”We’ll right the ship.”

The Spartans took advantage of a first-quarter interception and led 3-0, but Thorson connected with Kyric McGowan for a 77-yard touchdown with 18 seconds left in the period. Thorson found JJ Jefferson for a 34-yard TD in the second, and Northwestern led 14-6 at halftime.The Wildcats blew a 21-3 halftime lead in a loss to Akron and were up 17-0 in the first half in last weekend’s loss to Michigan . They also gave away the lead against Michigan State in a quick sequence during the third quarter.Felton Davis scored for the Spartans on a 48-yard reverse , and although a 2-point conversion attempt failed, Michigan State got the ball back on an interception and took a 19-14 lead on Brian Lewerke’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Davis.NU recovered, however, and won on a day when the Wildcats looked like the better team.

”We lost some momentum there in the third quarter and we were able to seize it back,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ”We’ve been really close the last three weeks and to come in here against an outstanding football team and get the win, I’m incredibly proud of our guys.

The Wildcats earned this win. Northwestern had the right plan, throwing 47 passes against Michigan State team that excels at stopping the run, and the Wildcats also were impressive defensively in the final quarter.

Illini get first Big Ten win in two season, rub away from hapless Rutgers

Illinois Fighting Illini

PISCATAWAY—After a career that included stops at Nebraska, Iowa Western Community College and Virginia Tech, AJ Bush is getting a chance to play as a graduate transfer at Illinois, and he’s helping to turn the program around.Bush ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns and threw for another in his return to the lineup as Illinois used a big ground game to beat Rutgers 38-17 Saturday, sending the Scarlet Knights to their fifth straight loss.The win not only snapped a two-game losing streak for Illinois (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten), but it also ended a 13-game losing streak in the Big Ten, dating to 31-27 decision over Michigan State in 2016.Reggie Corbin ran for a career-high 137 yards, including a 73-yard scoring dash, as the Illini rushed for 330 yards and had 419 yards in total offense. Mike Epstein added 41-yard touchdown run with 5:07 to go.

”That’s exactly who we’d like to be – our personality,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said of the running game. ”This is who we want to be. Offensively when you rush for over 300 yards, you have to be really excited about that.”

The three wins in a season ties the most for Smith in his two-plus seasons. The Illini were 2-10 last season and winless in the league.Jonathan Hilliman scored on a 32-yard run and freshman Art Sitkowski added a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Vokolek to get Rutgers (1-5, 0-3) within 24-14 at the half. Gavin Haggerty added a 20-yard field goal with less than six minutes to play, but Epstein scored on the first play after Illinois recovered an onside kick.Illinois, which had seven interceptions coming into the game, picked three more, including one on the first pass of the game by Sitkowski (29 of 49 for 267). It set up a 39-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin for a 3-0 lead after less than four minutes.Hilliiman’s TD run gave Rutgers its only lead, but Bush scored twice and Corbin went the distance in opening a 24-7 Illini lead.

ND pulls away from Hokies, now 6-0

BLACKSBURG—Dexter Williams burst through the line, suddenly saw nothing but green in front of him and was gone.In a span of seconds, fans of No. 24 Virginia Tech went from roaring with certainty that the Hokies were about to make the kind of defensive play that can change a game to watching it flip in the other direction as Williams sprinted 97 yards down their sideline.And soon, a tight game was no more, the No. 6 Fighting Irish pulling away for a 45-23 victory on Saturday night.

”I was looking at the Jumbotron the whole time,” Williams said, ”to make sure I didn’t get caught.”

The Fighting Irish (6-0) had minus-5 rushing yards and were facing second-and-12 from their 3 when Williams broke into the clear early in the third quarter, putting Notre Dame ahead 24-16. Williams had just been thrown for a 2-yard loss, prompting the crowd’s excitement.Instead, it was Williams who made the big play.

”We had a couple of plays that we felt comfortable we could run down there,” coach Brian Kelly said of Williams, who ran for 161 yards in his first action of the season last week in a victory against No. 15 Stanford. ”He’s got great speed. He’s able to hit it.”

Virginia Tech responded by driving to the Notre Dame 30, but Brian Johnson missed a 47-yard field goal try.

”After that we kind of self-destructed a little bit,” Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said.

Williams finished with 178 yards on 17 carries. He added TD runs of 1 and 31 yards.The Irish’s defense was stout, too. Khalid Kareem stripped quarterback Ryan Willis on a scramble and Julian Love was in perfect position to scoop up the bouncing fumble and take it 42 yards for a touchdown, giving Notre Dame a 17-9 lead late in the second quarter. Before breaking the game open, Notre Dame also sacked Willis for 11 yards after Virginia Tech (3-2) drove to the 19, and stopped the Hokies on three tries from the 1 yard-line. Both of those drives ended with the hosts settling for field goals by Johnson.

”It was a good battle there for a while,” Hokies coach Justin Fuente said.

Ian Book started fast and then struggled, but delivered the back-breaker for the Irish. Flushed left and surrounded by three closing defenders, he tossed a short pass just beyond them to Miles Boykin, whose 40-yard touchdown made it 31-16 late in the third quarter. The pair later connected for a 5-yard TD as the Irish scored the first 21 points of the second half.Book finished 25 for 35 for 271 yards in his third consecutive start. Willis was 31 for 52 for 309 yards with two TDs and one interception for the Hokies.Book was perfect on the opening drive, completing all seven of his throws for 58 yards. He also hit Chris Finke for 58 yards on the first play of Notre Dame’s second possession, but was far less effective throwing the ball downfield the rest of the way. He badly overthrew Finke twice, including once when Finke was well behind Tyree Rodgers and could have coasted into the end zone.

”I told him don’t worry about it,” Williams said of Book. ”He’s a great quarterback and he has to continue to step up.”

The Hokies’ lack of defensive depth is catching up with them. They were without starting free safety Divine Deablo, who Foster said tweaked a hamstring in practice on Wednesday, forcing Rodgers into extended action. The Hokies have had to replace eight starters, plus Deablo, since last season.Williams’ run was the second-longest in Notre Dame history, the longest in Lane Stadium history and matched the longest the Hokies have ever allowed. … Damon Hazelton caught a TD pass for the Hokies for the fifth straight game, tying Isaiah Ford’s school record.The Irish enhanced their playoff aspirations by winning in a difficult place while No. 5 LSU, No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 8 Auburn all lost. Virginia Tech is likely to drop out of the rankings again, but could well figure in the ACC’s Coastal Division mix before the season is over.Notre Dame returns home next Saturday to face another ACC opponent, Pittsburgh.