Illinois gets first Big Ten win since 2011, tops Purdue

By By: Stephen Bourbon

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Party like it’s 2011 — the Illini have a Big Ten win.

For the first time since Oct. 8, 2011, a span of 20 conference games, the Illini (4-7, 1-6 Big Ten) defeated a Big Ten opponent, as Illinois held on against Purdue (1-10, 0-7) 20-16 on Saturday.

Though the victory may seem insignificant to those outside the program — the Boilermakers haven’t beaten an FBS team this year — the win marked an end to the longest conference losing streak in Illinois history.

“To see kids crying and filled with emotion after a victory, that’s what athletics are all about,” head coach Tim Beckman said. “It’s about these players and the monkey is off their back.”

After the game began in shootout fashion, both defenses clamped down in the final three quarters of the game.

The Illinois defense was porous in the first quarter, even against one of the worst offenses in the country. Purdue averaged just 65.4 rushing yards per game, second worst in the country, but the Boilermakers nearly matched that total on one play.

Running back Akeem Hunt took a toss to the left side and, weaving around downfield blocking and Earnest Thomas III, scampered 62 yards to the end zone to put Purdue up 7-0.

The Illini responded with a Nathan Scheelhaase touchdown to Steve Hull. Purdue went back ahead with a Danny Etling pass to Cameron Posey before another Hull touchdown knotted the game at 14.

Hull continued to be the Illini’s biggest receiving threat. The senior recorded his third consecutive game of 100 or more yards, with 169 yards and notched two touchdowns. After having just one touchdown in the team’s first eight games, Hull has found the end zone five times in the past three.

After the teams scored a combined 28 points in the game’s first 15 minutes, six seconds, both defenses stiffened the rest of the game.

Purdue had multiple chances to take the lead but couldn’t take advantage of turnovers. The Boilermakers forced four Illinois turnovers but couldn’t turn any into points. Scheelhaase threw two interceptions in Purdue territory to end drives and two fumbles gave Purdue the ball in Illini territory.

“We had our chances and didn’t convert, but I don’t care right now,” offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “I’ll worry about it tomorrow, I’m just happy to see the smiles on these kids’ faces.”

Purdue missed a field goal right before halftime off one of the fumbles. When faced with a similar situation in the third quarter, the Boilermakers elected to try a fake field goal, where holder Cody Webster was tackled for a loss.

After two fourth quarter field goals put the Illini up 20-14, Purdue got the ball back with 3:37 left in the game. Etling found Posey for 30 yards and Hunt ran for nine more to put the Boilermakers in striking distance at the Illini 33-yard line. But Purdue’s drive would stall soon after two short runs and an incompletion. Etling was pressured on fourth-and-9 and threw it right to V’Angelo Bentley to seal the game.

For a team whose self-inflicted mistakes have proved fatal in previous losses, overcoming adversity was satisfying for Scheelhaase.

“It was a feeling we’ve been wanting so much,” he said. “If you could bottle it up and sell it, you’d be a millionaire.”

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and @steve_bourbon.