CHAMPAIGN—On a cool.but beautiful day in Champaign the earliest that Illinois and Northwestern played in years took place.The Fighting Illlini,like the Bears last week,brought out their orange shirts.The two Big Ten State rivals have usually played late in the season.A late 1 foot sneak by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase allowed Illinois to improve to 5-0 with a 38-35 win over Northwestern.
A less than full house saw the #22 Illini hold the Wildcats in check for the first quarter and took a 7-0 lead with 2:28 left in that first period.The Cats continued to have problems with a bad kicking game which hampered them the past 2 yrs. Last yr at Wrigley,Mikel Lashore had 2 TD’s just 5 minutes into the game,but it took them 12:32 to score on this day,and that was after an awful 12 yd punt by Brandon Williams.The Illini went 32 yds in 5 plays with Nathan Scheelhaase finding A.J.Jenkins on a 14 yard scoring play and the first quarter ended 7-0 Illinios.Dan Persa started slowly,but NU tied it,going 69 yds with Persa hitting a wide open Drake Dunsmore for a 6 yd score.It was 7-7 with 12:31 left in the half.Illinois had two costly turnover in the first half as Scheelhaase threw one right to NU’s Brian Peters. The second Illini turnover was more costly as Scheelhaase tossed a bad pitchout that the Cats Tyler Scott recovered at the UI 36.That led to a Persa to Jeremy Ebert 3 yd TD pass after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Illini as the trash talking had begun.NU took it’s first lead 14-7 with 2:03 left in the first half.The Illini drive down to Cats 32,and after a Scheelhasse TD pass to Spencer Harris was called back for offensive int, Derek Dimke hit on a 49 yard field goal as time expired.At halftime, the Wildcats had a 14-10 lead.
NU took the 2nd half kickoff 80 yds in 7 plays, Ebert with a great diving third down catch to keep the drive going,then he out ran the Illini secondary and grabbed a 39 yard TD pass in stride from Persa to make it 21-10 Cats. NU held Illinois and then went 39 yards after a nice return,and a huge fourth down pass from Persa to Ebert to keep the drive alive, those two connected on a 4 yard TD pass,the third such of the game for the pair to make it 28-10 Wildcats with 7:11 on the clock for the third quarter.The Illini got one back as Scheelhaase hit Jenkins down the left sideline to cut the NU lead to 28-17 after three quarters.Scheelhaase then hit a wide open Jenkins again on the first play of the fourth quarter from 50 yards,but Scheelhaase was stopped on a two point try.The comeback was completed when the Illini started at their own five and Scheelhaase hit Jenkins to get out of ”jail’ and a 15 yard late hit out of bounds gave UI 15 more yards.Donovonn Young crashed over from the one foot line and Harris grabbed a 2 point pass to give the Illini the lead back 31-28 with 6:47 left.NU got the ball and drove to the Illinois 38,but then questionable play calling with three straight running plays that netted two yards.Persa’s achilles acted up after he was sacked and he took hemself out of the game.On fourth down Backup Quarterback Shane Colter scrambled and gained four,but was well short of the first down and Illinois took over on down with 3:04 left.One first down, Jason Ford fumbled and the Cats recovered at the UI 37. Colter still in at QB, carried down to the 12 and a face mask penalty gave NU a first and goal at the 6.Jason Schmidt then carried it in with 1:15 left.It almost appeared as though the Illini allowed Schmidt to score to have some time left on the clock,and it worked as the Cats scored too soon.The Illini got to the NU 19 with :38 left after a 22 yd run by Scheelhaase.Jenkins was then interfered with in the end zone putting the ball at the NU 4.The ball got to the half yard line,and Scheelhaase was able to sneak over with :13 left for the game winner.
NOTES—With the win in front of 53,233, Illinois took the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the second straight year…..Jenkins caught 12 passes for an Illinois single game record 268 yards and three TD’s….The four TD passes by Persa were a career high….Illinois has it’s first road game next week at Indiana while Northwestern is home at sold out Ryan Field against Michigan.