Brewster’s Homecoming isn’t welcomed by Illini

 

 

By Laura Hettiger

Illinois’ Homecoming football game was special for one alumnus in particular: Tim Brewster. The Golden Gophers’ head coach enjoyed a sweet victory Saturday against his alma mater on a day dedicated to graduates from the University of Illinois.

Though Brewster spoiled 62,870 people’s day by beating the Illini 27-20, he could not think of a better way to celebrate his own homecoming.

“I played at the University of Illinois; I was captain of the Rose Bowl team (in 1983) at the University of Illinois, so sure there’s significance,” Brewster said of playing against the Orange and Blue. “It’s kind of like competing against your brother, you don’t want to lose.”

Brewster and company did more than just win a nail-biting football game. With the victory, the Gophers are now 6-1 on the season and are officially bowl eligible for postseason play.

The Illini did not fare quite as well. Though Juice Williams put up 503 yards on offense and Arrelious Benn had a career-high 12 catches for 181 total yards, the team slipped to 3-3 on the season.

“We’ve got to regroup, and we’re going to find out exactly what kind of team we are now,” head coach Ron Zook said.

What kind of team Illinois is will be tested throughout the remainder of the year. As Big Ten play continues, the Illini’s challengers will not get any easier.

But as Illinois questions itself, Minnesota’s success this season has answered its own question of “Why not us, why not now?”

“You know, we kind of got a philosophy, ‘Why not us, why not now? Why not us, why not now?’ and I’m going to tell you, the state of Minnesota stands proud this afternoon (Saturday),” Brewster said triumphantly. “The Minnesota Golden Gophers had a program-changing victory today on the road against a very good football team in an extremely hostile environment … The heart and character of the Gophers is outstanding and I tell you what guys, this victory is sweet.”

The hostile environment could be attributed to the back-and-forth play during the final five minutes of the game. With four possession changes, a fumble, an interception and a punt, the two teams battled until the final seconds ticked away, giving the Gophers their second conference victory.

Yet the hostility was not one-sided. As Minnesota came off the field by Illinois’ north end zone where the Block I students sit, the Gophers taunted the section by chanting “No. 1,” screaming and waving “good-bye” to the Illini fans and making various hand gestures.

With the increased excitement, Minnesota – who was again left out of the national rankings even after the win – hopes it has finally proved itself after last year’s dismal 1-11 record.

“This is a statement-making game for our defense,” said Steve Davis, the linebacker who stopped Williams on the 1-yard line at the end of the third quarter. “We came out to Illinois’ house and basically, all those things against us, refs against us, the other team against us, and our defense stepped up today.”

As the Minnesota defense rose to the occasion of containing Williams both on the ground and through the air, Brewster believed it was a total team effort.

To award his team for the impressive victory, the second-year coach plans to give the players “a good rest” during Minnesota’s bye this week.

“Our players have taken ownership of our football team and it’s an extremely unselfish football team,” Brewster said. “Those two characteristics right there are the reason why we’re 6-1 and beat Illinois today: player ownership and unselfishness.”

Wide receiver Eric Decker agreed. Putting up the first points of the game, Decker knows that even after the bye week, there will still be respect for his team.

“We went out there and wanted to show that we are a good program,” Decker said. “And now we can go anywhere from here.”

But now the greater question remains for the Illini: Where do they go from here?