Senior lineman to sit out rest of season

By Courtney Linehan

After missing the last four games of the 2003 season with a herniated disc in his neck, senior offensive lineman Bryan Koch was eager to return to the game, football head coach Ron Turner said. His season was cut extremely short, however, when he was injured early in Saturday’s game against Florida A&M.;

“That’s part of the game; it’s the part that’s toughest to deal with when you’ve got a kid like Bryan Koch, who is one of the best kids we have,” Turner said.

Koch tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments (ACL and MCL) in what Turner described as an uncalled penalty.

“To see something like that happen on the fifth play of the game, on a play that should be a penalty – injury’s gonna happen, but when they happen on a play that’s a cheap shot it’s really hard to take,” Turner said.

Koch could return for a sixth season if he decides to appeal and the NCAA approves.

Rookie controls nerves

Illini place kicker Jason Reda made a 35-yard field goal early in the second quarter and scored seven extra points in his first NCAA appearance.

“I’d say my kicking was all emotion today,” Reda said after the game. “It was just exciting, I had a great time out there.”

Despite speculation about Reda’s anxiety going into his first collegiate game, he said he felt excitement more than anything else.

“Actually I wasn’t really nervous, I was more excited,” Reda said. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long, long time.”

Thomas rushes 60 yards

Sophomore running back Pierre Thomas rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns, including a 60-yard run in the second quarter. It was his first career 100-yard game.

“It was just one run up the middle,” Thomas said. “I saw a big hole from the O-line, I saw a wide-open field, I saw a defender and I knew in my mind I had to get past him in order to get a touchdown. I tried to get past him, I got past him, I saw a wide-open field. I looked to the right and I’m like ‘Oh boy, I got a couple of guys behind me.’ They’re some good guys, they’re fast, they got speed, you know, they’re real fast, and I tried to outrun them but it was real hard, and one guy got me.”

RBs score pair of TDs

Both sophomore running back EB Halsey and Thomas rushed for two touchdowns, the first time two Illini running backs have scored twice each since the Bowl in the 1999 season. Thomas said while the two have a friendly rivalry, their relationship is more about helping each other improve.

“It’s a good competition between me and E.B.,” Thomas said. “I help him on some things, he helps me on some things.”

Crowd key in victory

Head coach Ron Turner said fan support helped the team get excited before the game. Starting with the Illini Walk before the game, Turner said the team was impressed with the crowd’s enthusiasm.

“It’s important for our players to get off that bus and see the Block-I there; to see all the fans and the band there,” Turner said. “It kinda helped motivate them a little bit. Just seeing the Block-I – that’s something that hopefully will continue to grow and be a big part of the rest of the six Saturdays that we have at home and the one or two away games that they’re going to go on.”

Mason sits game out

Sophomore running back Marcus Mason sat out Saturday’s game and will miss the next two games as well, serving a suspension for violating team rules.