Illinois falls to Penn State in OT, loses 18th Big Ten game in row
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter November 2, 2013 7:41PM
Nathan Scheelhaase passed for 321 yards and a touchdown against Penn State, but he also threw two interceptions, including one that ended the game in overtime. | AP
Illinois 0 3 7 7 0 — 17
Penn State 7 7 0 3 7 — 24
PSU—Belton 5 run (Ficken kick), 9:44.
PSU—Hackenberg 9 run (Ficken kick), 13:13.
Ill—FG Zalewski 20, :00.
Ill—Ferguson 8 run (Zalewski kick), 4:47.
Ill—Ferguson 7 pass from Scheelhaase (Zalewski kick), 5:30.
PSU—FG Ficken 35, :41.
PSU—Carter 15 pass from Hackenberg (Ficken kick).
TEAM STATISTICS Ill PSU
First downs 27 25
Rushes-yards 24-90 48-250
Passing 321 240
Comp-Att-Int 33-52-2 20-32-0
Return Yards 0 1
Punts-Avg. 4-35.0 3-34.3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 9-71 11-95
Time of Possession 25:08 34:52
RUSHING—Illinois, Scheelhaase 8-35, Ferguson 10-34, Young 6-21. Penn St., Belton 36-201, Zwinak 6-25, A.Robinson 1-14, Hackenberg 5-10.
PASSING—Illinois, Scheelhaase 33-52-2-321. Penn St., Hackenberg 20-32-0-240.
RECEIVING—Illinois, Harris 10-81, Ferguson 6-73, Hull 6-59, Osei 5-60, Davis 3-27, LaCosse 2-14, Barr 1-7. Penn St., A.Robinson 11-165, Anderson 2-18, Belton 2-8, Breneman 2-8, Felder 1-19, Carter 1-15, James 1-7.
Updated: December 4, 2013 6:45AM
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Nathan Scheelhaase stood and stared, partly in shock at the first-down interception he just had thrown. It was a cruel, abrupt end to Illinois’ 18th consecutive Big Ten defeat, this one by a score of 24-17 in overtime.
As Scheelhaase remained frozen in the spot where he had released his 52nd — and most ill-fated — throw of the day, Penn State players dog-piled in the end zone and the crowd rejoiced.
All Scheelhaase could do was stand and stare at the Nittany Lions’ celebration and into the nothingness that has become the Illini’s season. He was sad. Disappointed. Angry at himself.
And so, so sick of losing.
‘‘That’s about right,’’ he said less than a half-hour later.
It was the most emotional game of the season for Illinois (3-5, 0-4 Big Ten), which came to Happy Valley actually believing it was going to win.
‘‘We felt like we had a lot [planned] to make this one go,’’ Scheelhaase said. ‘‘This game was one we really wanted.’’
But Penn State (5-3, 2-2) rallied late for a tying field goal, then scored on a third-and-11 pass from Christian Hackenberg to Kyle Carter on its first overtime possession. The Illini got the ball, and, well, Scheelhaase saw something that wasn’t there.
It’s always something with coach Tim Beckman’s team, though Illinois usually isn’t so close to victory. The truth is, the Illini raised their game Saturday. The intensity and competitiveness — and desperation to win — were there, especially during the second half, which opened with the Nittany Lions leading 14-3. There were lots of reasons for Illinois’ players to walk off the field with their heads held high.
It didn’t help them feel any better. Not Scheelhaase, who was consoled by several teammates before he finally moved in the direction of the visitors’ tunnel. Not Spencer Harris, despite his career-high 10 catches. Not linebacker Jonathan Brown, the leader of a beleaguered defense that was surprising effective after giving up two early touchdowns.
All seniors. All sick of it.
‘‘Being so close to that elusive win, it stings more,’’ said receiver Steve Hull, who caught five balls despite playing with sore ribs and hamstrings. ‘‘Especially as a senior, seeing the opportunities fade. There are only four more of them.’’
Technically, that’s true. But with Ohio State on the schedule, let’s just say there are three of them.
Those three games — at Indiana, at Purdue and home against Northwestern — are, theoretically, winnable. After his own Big Ten record fell to 0-12, Beckman sat in front of the microphones and said, as he has many times of late, that a bowl game is still possible.
That would require the Illini to beat the Hoosiers, Boilermakers and Wildcats, which is only a tad more likely than Beckman being asked by USC to interview for its head-coaching vacancy.
Several Illinois players were present during Beckman’s postgame news conference, at which he was asked if his takeaway from such a hard-fought game was more positive or negative.
‘‘We want to win, don’t we, Nate?’’ Beckman asked Scheelhaase.
The response was a barely audible ‘‘yes.’’
Beckman asked the same question of Brown and got a similarly quiet ‘‘yes, sir.’’
The Illini are down. One wonders how much fight they have left in them.