Illinois football snaps losing streak, Chase Brown explodes for career day in win over Charlotte

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Lanie Hibel

Isaiah Williams catches the ball during the game against Charlotte on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Illini took down the 49ers, 24-14, to snap the team’s four-game losing streak ahead of Homecoming next weekend.

By Wes Hollenberg, Staff Writer

Illinois football won against the Charlotte 49ers, 24-14, today in a back-and-forth affair at Memorial Stadium.

The win snapped a four-game losing streak, with Chase Brown being the primary offensive dynamo that helped push the Illini forward. Brown had a career-high 257 rushing yards, which ranks as the fourth-most yards in a game in Illinois history.

“I’m blessed to be in the position I am,” Brown said. “I’ve worked my (butt) off. I’ve worked really hard. Culture that coach has been giving off. (Running backs coach Corey Patterson) and those late night meetings with him. Like I said, those guys out front played their butts off.”

Although the win may have seemed momentous externally given Illinois’ losing streak, head coach Bret Bielema was nonchalant about the result after the game. 

“I told our locker room (to) settle down,” Bielema said. “You beat Charlotte, alright? We’re talking about winning Big Ten games here. Enjoy the moment, hug your mom, dad, whoever else you’re hanging around. But, let’s get our minds right tomorrow for practice.”

The Illini seemed to have momentum when they opened the game, as they rushed for 55 yards on 11 attempts on their first drive. However, starting quarterback Brandon Peters once again came out to a slow start and went 1/5, forcing the Illini to settle for a field goal. The score marked the first time Illinois has scored in the first quarter since it registered a safety against Nebraska in its season opener. 

But, Charlotte responded quickly and decisively with similar rushing success going for 24 yards on six attempts. The difference-maker was strong quarterback play, as Chris Reynolds went 4/4, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to Victor Tucker. 

Illinois failed to get much traction on its next drive, but the defense quickly forced a Charlotte turnover after they punted the ball back. On the 49ers’ first pass of the drive, Sydney Brown knocked the ball out of the opposing receiver’s hands to force a fumble recovered by Illinois’ Kerby Joseph. 

Despite recovering the ball deep in Charlotte territory, Illinois failed to score as the 49ers forced a fumble on a Josh McCray run. After forcing a Charlotte three-and-out, Illinois finally produced a substantive touchdown drive with a variety of short chunk pass and run plays. Ultimately, the touchdown score came from a 10-yard pass to Daniel Barker. 

That would be Peters’ only touchdown pass of the day, as he would ultimately end up going 10/19 for 78 yards. With Peters under harsh scrutiny for his play at quarterback this season, the mediocre statline will do little to silence the concerns. 

“I think a quarterback is very unique in the fact that they get much more scrutiny, positive and negative, than any other position,” Bielema said. “As a head coach, I learned early in my career, the trust and the faith you have in them has to be apparent to everybody. Otherwise, everybody is going to start shooting holes in identity. I think (Peters) would be the first to tell you I’ve handled him very aggressively in the last two weeks and especially today. The results hopefully (will) continue to trend in the right direction.”

Although they briefly relinquished the lead, the 49ers quickly responded with their own touchdown drive behind a 34-yard pass to Grant DuBose and a 27-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Spencer. The drive took a little over two minutes, and the Illini went into halftime trailing 14-10 despite dominating the time of possession battle. 

The second half started with an unproductive drive by Charlotte, but Illinois responded with a strong touchdown drive that made it look like an entirely different team than the one seen in the first half. 

Brandon Peters had a pair of passes for first downs, but the real highlight was Chase Brown, who had six rushes on the drive. On his last two runs, Brown refused to go down, dodging tackles and dragging defenders along with him as he ran for 20 yards and then 31 yards for the touchdown on consecutive plays. 

Charlotte proceeded to march down the field before getting stymied in the red zone. Kicker Jonathan Cruz missed the 29-yard field goal, which set up the Illinois offense for what seemed to be a long drive from their own 20-yard line. 

Chase Brown had other ideas, however, and immediately broke away for an 80-yard touchdown rush. He smashed his previous career-high of 131 rushing yards on the play. 

“That touchdown run was (the result of) an adjustment by the coaches to a formation that they identified through the course of the game,” Bielema said. “I know we talked about going over it, specifically on the sidelines. We thought it would be a big hit. I don’t think they knew it was going to go that distance, but I think you really saw the skill set of what Chase Brown has. There were a couple guys that definitely had the angle on him, but he can definitely run.”

At this point, Illinois seemed to have control over the game as Keith Randolph Jr proceeded to intercept a Reynolds pass early on in Charlotte’s next drive. James McCourt missed a long field goal after Illinois struggled to get much going on their next possession, but the Illinois defense continued to clamp up afterward. Owen Carney Jr. registered sacks on consecutive plays to force a Charlotte punt.  

 

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