Team comes from behind for win

Online Poster

By Courtney Linehan

As Illinois began its final drive with 3:03 to play Saturday, it seemed unlikely the game would turn in its favor. Western Michigan had just scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to take a 27-23 lead.

When the Illini regained possession, many of the spectators began to stream out of Memorial Stadium.

Those who stayed saw Illinois accomplish a crucial goal – winning one more game than last year’s team had.

The Illini was inching its way toward the goal line before quarterback Brad Bower threw a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Ade Adeyamo in the end zone before Bronco cornerback Jimmie Vincent hit Adeyamo an instant before he would have made the catch.

As Illini fans cringed, however, a pass interference penalty was called, and suddenly Illinois had first-and-goal on the 4-yard line.

The clock flashed 1:06 as Illinois running back E.B. Halsey rushed up the middle, getting the four yards – and the touchdown – the team so desperately needed.

“I knew those big old boys wanted to run that ball and they were going to open a hole up for E.B.,” Bower said. “He did a great job putting it in there. I was just going crazy. I don’t remember what was going on.”

The Block-I, still packed shoulder to shoulder, went ecstatic. Wide receiver Mark Kornfeld threw his arms around Halsey and lifted him like a bag of groceries. Illinois place-kicker Jason Reda made the extra point; the score was 30-27 with 1:02 left on the clock.

Despite Western Michigan’s efforts, Illinois beat a Division 1-A team for the first time since November 2002.

“You should have seen that locker room; it was crazy,” Bower said. “A win’s a win, so we came out, we pulled together as a team, and that means more than anything.”

The real turning point of the game came when Halsey returned a 54-yard punt 40 yards, putting the Illini within scoring distance. While Halsey earned recognition for pulling off two of Illinois’ biggest plays of the game, he credited the defense for setting him up.

“We went out for the punt return, our defense had a great stop, and in my head I was saying ‘Please, just give me a little time, give me a little time back here so I can make a play,'” Halsey said. “I just wanted a chance to make a play and really turn this thing around, and I did. The guys blocked it well and we got a big gain and that was a big momentum boost.”

It was also a boost for Bower, who felt a little weight lifted from his shoulders when the distance to the end zone was cut in half.

“When E.B. brought the ball down on that return that gave everybody some confidence, me especially, knowing it took a little pressure off of me not having to go as far,” Bower said.

The redshirt freshman was 10-of-19 passing for 177 yards. While his running ability has been one of Bower’s most praised attributes, he rushed nine times for a net loss of 14 yards.

Bower said he felt some nerves in his first game as a starter but was able to calm down as the game went on.

“I’d seen the field pretty well I felt; I was forcing a few things,” Bower said. “Later on things started to slow down, we went to our quick game more – more simple, shorter passes for me to complete – and definitely that got my confidence going.”

The game started fast, when running back Pierre Thomas returned the kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Thomas returned three kickoffs for 132 yards and rushed 12 times for 78 yards.

“That’s where it started out; it gave us a big jump,” Thomas said.” I think that touchdown helped us win this game.”

Western Michigan totaled 406 offensive yards compared to the Illini’s 353 and had two interceptions against Illinois’ one. Despite being blown out 63-0 by Virgina Tech last weekend, the Broncos stayed in the game, proving they were the tough team Illinois anticipated.

“We knew Western Michigan was coming out here to play,” Thomas said. “We heard they had a tough game last week and today they wanted to come down here and really fight for this first game. But we had to make sure they couldn’t get that. We had to stay focused and make sure they didn’t overpower.”

Halsey said the victory showed the team what it is capable of doing, as well as where there is room for improvement.

“Pulling this thing out shows a lot of character,” Halsey said. “We have a good team this year; I can honestly say that we have some guys who’ll step up and make some good plays in key situations. That’s something we showed today and hopefully we’ll build on that against Purdue.”