Illinois tops Purdue to halt 20-game Big Ten losing streak
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter November 23, 2013 8:16PM
Receiver Steve Hull caught 10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns in Illinois’ 20-16 victory Saturday against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. | R. Brent Smith/AP
Illinois 7 7 0 6 — 20
Purdue 14 0 0 2 — 16
Pur—A.Hunt 62 run (Griggs kick), 13:35.
Ill—Hull 3 pass from Scheelhaase (Zalewski kick), 10:21.
Pur—Posey 8 pass from Etling (Griggs kick), 3:19.
Ill—Hull 30 pass from Scheelhaase (Zalewski kick), 14:54.
Ill—FG Zalewski 32, 12:28.
Ill—FG Zalewski 23, 7:08.
TEAM STATISTICS Ill Pur
First downs 22 11
Rushes-yards 37-123 29-120
Passing 257 163
Comp-Att-Int 24-31-2 20-29-1
Return Yards 9 35
Punts-Avg. 3-34.0 7-34.1
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-0
Penalties-Yards 3-15 6-45
Time of Possession 29:52 30:08
RUSHING—Illinois, Ferguson 20-115, Scheelhaase 10-19, Davis 2-7, Young 2-4, Team 2-(minus 3), Hull 1-(minus 19). Purdue, A.Hunt 18-102, Cottom 4-22, Monteroso 1-(minus 1), Webster 1-(minus 1), Etling 5-(minus 2).
PASSING—Illinois, Scheelhaase 24-30-2-257, Hull 0-1-0-0. Purdue, Etling 20-29-1-163.
RECEIVING—Illinois, Hull 10-169, Ferguson 4-11, Osei 3-28, Davis 2-34, Young 2-3, Barr 1-5, LaCosse 1-4, Harris 1-3. Purdue, Posey 4-52, Sinz 4-45, Mikesky 4-28, Anthrop 2-23, Cottom 2-5, Freytag 1-9, Carter 1-5, Bush 1-(minus 1), A.Hunt 1-(minus 3).
Updated: December 25, 2013 6:45AM
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The game ended Saturday with Illinois moving backward and sideways. Anything but forward.
We mean this literally and only literally.
With eight seconds left and the Illini ahead by six, they faced a fourth down from their own 19-yard line. Rather than call for a punt and risk disaster, coach Tim Beckman called for quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to take a shotgun snap, turn toward his own end zone and toss a 15-yard strike to receiver Steve Hull, who would be waiting there to evade Purdue defenders long enough to drain the clock.
Otherwise known as risking disaster.
Why the heck not? Hull was taken down for a safety on the final tick, and Illinois had a 20-16 victory. There was no more fitting way for the Illini (4-7, 1-6 Big Ten) to end an absurd, epic 20-game conference losing streak.
So what does it all mean? Does beating the hapless Boilermakers (1-10, 0-7) signify legitimate improvement on Illinois’ part? Does the season-ender Saturday against Northwestern in Champaign take on added significance? Does Beckman suddenly have a new lease on his coaching life?
‘‘This game was not about Tim Beckman or his coaching staff,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘It was about the program and these seniors.’’
He hit on a couple of things there. First, the program: Yes, the Illini have moved forward in 2013. This group has fought extremely hard to end that nasty Big Ten streak, and the quality of football has improved along the way.
And those seniors: Beckman is correct when he calls them a special group. Linebacker Jonathan Brown has been through hell this season, but he hasn’t wavered. And he saved one of his best games for Purdue, leading the defense as it pitched a shutout for the final three quarters.
And how about sixth-year senior offensive tackle Corey Lewis? Three torn anterior cruciate ligaments. Five knee surgeries. Two and a half years on the shelf. Yet he’s still out there in 2013, having started — and finished — every game. No longer can he say he hasn’t played in a Big Ten victory since 2009.
‘‘Been a long time,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m definitely happy.’’
How fitting that Scheelhaase and Hull were linked on the final play, considering they’ve been linked since their first day on campus. They were roommates their first season in Champaign. Over the summer, Hull was a groomsman in Scheelhaase’s wedding.
Hull came to Illinois as a wide receiver but quickly was moved to defensive back. Many injuries later, he was switched back to wide receiver before his final season. He caught 10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue, giving him 27 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns in his last three games.
More important, this pair of friends got to win a game together, possibly for the last time.
‘‘Before, it was like we were still kind of missing something,’’ Hull said. ‘‘All that chemistry and the [big] plays feel good, but it’s nothing without a win.’’
One step forward after so many steps back. Illini Nation will take it.