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Illinois’ win over SIU isn’t pretty, but it’s a win

Illinois running back Donovonn Young dives for touchdown second quarter but he was outplayed by backup Josh Ferguson. | Bradley

Illinois running back Donovonn Young dives for a touchdown in the second quarter, but he was outplayed by backup Josh Ferguson. | Bradley Leeb/AP

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S. Illinois 7 0 17 10 — 34

Illinois 3 22 14 3 — 42

First Quarter

Ill—FG Zalewski 33, 11:38.

SIll—McCall 1 run (Kinney kick), 8:01.

Second Quarter

Ill—Ferguson 53 pass from Scheelhaase (Zalewski kick), 9:31.

Ill—Young 2 run (Zalewski kick), 9:02.

Ill—Davis 11 pass from Scheelhaase (LaCosse pass from Russell), :17.

Third Quarter

SIll—R.Hicks 3 pass from Faulkner (Kinney kick), 12:04.

Ill—Bailey 2 run (Zalewski kick), 8:48.

SIll—FG Kinney 20, 5:47.

Ill—Bentley 100 kickoff return (Zalewski kick), 5:30.

SIll—Lantz 35 pass from Faulkner (Kinney kick), 2:48.

Fourth Quarter

Ill—FG Zalewski 31, 12:05.

SIll—FG Kinney 41, 7:08.

SIll—Pruitt 1 pass from Faulkner (Kinney kick), 4:14.

A—42,175.

TEAM STATISTICS SIll Ill

First downs 17 21

Rushes-yards 26-66 30-49

Passing 341 415

Comp-Att-Int 26-41-0 29-37-1

Return Yards 34 19

Punts-Avg. 6-46.5 4-42.3

Fumbles-Lost 1-1 3-1

Penalties-Yards 6-56 8-70

Time of Possession 30:48 29:12

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—S. Illinois, McCall 7-24, Malcome 12-21, T.Willis 3-13, Faulkner 3-10, Team 1-(minus 2). Illinois, Ferguson 9-49, Davis 1-15, Church 1-9, Bailey 2-6, Young 8-6, Team 1-(minus 2), O’Toole 1-(minus 7), Scheelhaase 7-(minus 27).

PASSING—S. Illinois, Faulkner 25-40-0-312, Lantz 1-1-0-29. Illinois, Scheelhaase 28-36-1-416, O’Toole 1-1-0-(minus 1).

RECEIVING—S. Illinois, McKinney 7-52, Pruitt 5-83, Lantz 4-99, T. Willis 4-21, Sullivan 2-15, Faulkner 1-29, Lamprakes 1-24, McCall 1-15, R.Hicks 1-3. Illinois, Lankford 6-115, Osei 5-24, Ferguson 4-103, Barr 4-36, Hull 2-64, Wilson 2-15, Davis 2-14, Hardee 2-6, Clary 1-33, LaCosse 1-5.

Updated: October 2, 2013 6:48AM



CHAMPAIGN — For all we know, Illinois’ first and last victory of the season came and went Saturday. Given the final score — Illini 42, Southern Illinois 34 — one would have to accept it as a possibility.

The Illini can feel only so much joy after failing to put away a Bowl Championship Subdivision opponent that finished three yards, plus a two-point conversion, short of overtime.

“A win is a win,” coach Tim Beckman said. “It’s not a happy win, but we’ll learn from it.”

It was far from perfect. Beckman’s team couldn’t run the ball, didn’t generate a hint of a pass rush, lost the turnover battle and nearly coughed up an 18-point fourth-quarter lead.

In light of what their Week 2 opponent, Cincinnati, did to Purdue on Saturday — Bearcats 42, Boilermakers 7 — it might seem the Illini need a few more weeks of training camp. Or a safe place to hide.

But forget all that. These are the Illini. They were 2-10 in 2012. They were terrible. Many of them admit they all but quit on the season.

Who needs perfect?

“I feel great,” senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. “I feel awesome.”

Well, that’s more like it.

Scheelhaase deserved to be pleased after throwing for a career-high 416 yards — nearly three times his average (147.1) in his first 36 games as Illinois’ starter.

He, his teammates and all of Illini Nation (you’d think a whole nation would be able to fill more than half of Memorial Stadium) should, at the least, be enthused, energized, maybe even a bit hopeful.

Win or lose — even under the best of circumstances, there will be more of the latter — football is going to be so much more fun for the Illini this season.

How about a 52-yard heave from Scheelhaase to Ryan Lankford on the first snap of the season? How about a well-executed hook-and-lateral play? How about a successful two-point-conversion pass thrown by a tight end, Tim Russell? How about true freshman quarterback Aaron Bailey getting in the game to score a third-quarter touchdown?

Maybe V’Angelo Bentley’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — the Illini’s first since 2008 — was just a fluke. But it felt more like it belonged on a day when Beckman’s team made sure that, if nothing else, it was going to have a good time playing the game.

“All the players enjoy that,” Scheelhaase said. “Especially when it works.”

Maybe these Illini are a little crazy. They took possession of the ball at their own 6-yard line with 1:32 left in the first half. Leading 17-7, they faced what seemed to be an obvious running situation. Kill the clock, and hit the locker room.

Instead, they put the pedal to the metal. Seven plays and 94 yards later, they’d made a statement.

“We’re here to win,” Beckman said. “You might’ve thought we would take a knee. We ain’t doing that anymore.”

If that’s all Illini fans have to hang their hat on today, it could be a lot worse.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SLGreenberg



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