(Saturday, October 1st)
Final Score: (24) Illinois 38, Northwestern 35
Champaign, IL (Sports Network) - Nathan Scheelhaase bowled his way into the end zone with 13 seconds remaining, sending No. 24 Illinois to a 38-35 win over Northwestern on Saturday afternoon.
Scheelhaase began the decisive drive from his own 31-yard line with just over a minute left, and hit A.J. Jenkins with a 28-yard pass on the first play. He ran for 22 yards on 2nd-and-10 and was brought down with a horse collar tackle, resulting in an extra 15 yards and putting the ball on the four-yard line. The quarterback finally punched in the winning score on 3rd-and-goal from the one.
"Games are won in the last two minutes of the game," Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. "Particularly in this stretch of the schedule and the anatomy of it, you have to be able to win in every two-minute situation and have confidence in every two-minute situation. Those guys do. As I told them in the huddle, this is just like practice. I give them a time, how many time outs we have and if we have to score or have a field goal. That's exactly why we do it. For them, it's just like practice."
Scheelhaase threw for a career-high 391 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, while Jenkins also had a career day for the Fighting Illini (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten), catching 12 passes for 268 yards and three scores.
Dan Persa, playing in his first game since last November when he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon, threw for 123 yards and a career-high four touchdowns for Northwestern (2-2, 0-1). Jeremy Ebert hauled in five passes for 68 yards and three touchdowns.
Illinois had an excellent chance to open the scoring in the first quarter, when Scheelhaase led the Illini on a nine-play, 71-yard drive down to the Northwestern four-yard line. But Scheelhaase was picked off in the end zone on 3rd-and-goal by Brian Peters.
The Fighting Illini made up for the turnover on their next possession. Following an 11-yard punt by Brandon Williams, Illinois took over at the Wildcats' 32, and Scheelhaase connected with Jenkins on a 14-yard score to give the Illini a 7-0 lead with 2:28 left.
Northwestern evened the score early in the second quarter, when Persa found Drake Dunsmore in the end zone for a six-yard touchdown pass, capping a 12- play, 69-yard drive.
Late in the second quarter, the Wildcats took advantage of a turnover to take a 14-7 lead.
Following a Scheelhaase fumble, Northwestern took over at the Illini 36, and Persa found Ebert five plays later for a three-yard touchdown pass.
Illinois appeared to tie the game just before halftime when Scheelhaase connected with Spencer Harris in the corner of the end zone, but the play was called back due to offensive pass interference.
Derek Dimke connected on a 49-yard field goal to close out the first half and cut the Illinois deficit to 14-10.
On the first possession of the second half, Persa took his offense 80 yards in seven plays and connected with Ebert on a 39-yard touchdown strike to give the Wildcats a 21-10 lead.
Midway through the third stanza, Northwestern expanded its lead to 28-10. Persa led an eight-play, 39-yard drive down to the Illinois four before finding Ebert for a touchdown pass.
But Illinois then began its comeback.
On the ensuing Illini possession, Scheelhaase connected with Jenkins for a 33- yard touchdown strike to cut the gap to 28-17.
Early in the final quarter, Illinois made it a five-point game when Scheelhaase hooked up with Jenkins again, this time on a 50-yard strike, to make it 28-23. Illinois then went for the two-point conversion, but Scheelhaase's run was not successful.
On the Illini's next drive, Scheelhaase led a 13-play, 95-yard drive down to the Northwestern one before Donovonn Young powered his way through the defensive line and into the end zone. Scheelhaase connected with Harris on the two-point conversion to give Illinois a 31-28 lead with 6:53 left in the fourth quarter.
With three minutes remaining in the game, the Northwestern defense came up with a huge fumble recovery and gained possession at the Illinois 36 yard- line.
The Wildcats marched down to the Illini six before Jacob Schmidt punched the ball across the goal line with 1:15 to go.
"I am disappointed, obviously, in the outcome and the finish," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Lots of opportunities for us to go out and get the job done and we did not, which is disappointing. I thought a there were lot of positives, I thought the way we were able to take the ball away, the way we were able to effectively run the football. It was nice to have Dan back out there and make some plays. Kind of one of those anomaly games, you go 4-for-4 in the red zone, we had three turnovers and we didn't find a way to win. Little bit of anomaly but kind of disappointing."
Illinois owns a 54-46-5 series advantage over Northwestern, which includes a 48-27 romp over the Wildcats last season....Peters recorded his eighth career interception and third against Illinois...Ebert notched his 13th career touchdown catch...Saturday was homecoming day for Illinois.
10/01 17:53:30 ET