Penn State's Kyle Carter (87) celebrates his touchdown catch in overtime against illinois during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey ) MANDATORY CREDIT; MAGS OUT
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It might be. It could be. It … son of a gun.
Win or lose, Illinois would’ve had reasons to walk off the field at Beaver Stadium with their heads held high. The defense was better than in recent weeks — leaps and bounds better, in fact. Good enough to make coordinator Tim Banks look more competent than he has looked all season.
Good enough to make Tim Beckman look like Illinois’ head coach in 2014? Maybe.
The offense left some points on the field, no question — but it was a gritty performance led by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (33 for 52, 321 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) and supported by wideouts Spencer Harris (10 catches, 81 yards), Steve Hull and Miles Osei, running back Josh Ferguson and an offensive line that more than held its own.
This 24-17 overtime defeat at Penn State was a victory of sorts. A so-called moral victory, inasmuch as those actually exist.
But this one hurt the Illini. They’ve now lost 18 consecutive Big Ten games. They needed a win in the worst way. They’re left still searching for it, and it may not come until 2014.
Scheelhaase was intercepted on the game’s final play, and he stood still on the field, right where he’d released the ball, for at least 20 seconds. He stared — into the end zone, the stands, blankly, who knows. Or maybe he was simply dazed and disappointment by yet another loss.
Hull and backup quarterbacks Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey consoled Scheelhaase, and together they slowly made their way toward the locker room. The emotions in there will be all over the map.
The Illini just played their best game in at least a month. Maybe their best game of the year. But they lost anyway.
And so it goes.