Illinois football reclaims Land of Lincoln Trophy, dominates Northwestern in 47-14 win


Jackson Janes

Owen Carney Jr. hoists the Land of Lincoln Trophy following Illinois’ 47-14 win over Northwestern at Memorial Stadium in 2021.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Looking to bring the Land of Lincoln Trophy back to Champaign for the first time since 2014, Illinois dominated Northwestern from start to finish, winning the rivalry game, 47-14, in Bret Bielema’s first season in Champaign.

The victory also marked the first time the Illini’s large senior and super senior classes have defeated the Wildcats in their college careers.

With the passing game being one of the team’s weaknesses all season, Illinois started on a strong note, with Brandon Peters finding Isaiah Williams for a long 25-yard completion on the first play of the game. The offense would soon stall, with a 5-yard Peters carry, a 1-yard Chase Brown run and an incompletion halting the drive as soon as the Illini got into Wildcat territory.

After the two squads traded punts and Illinois went three-and-out, the Illini defense forced its first turnover of the afternoon after Northwestern quarterback Andrew Marty fumbled the ball as he was pulling back to throw. Taking over inside the opposing 10, Illinois found the end zone on the next play on an 8-yard Daniel Barker run, giving the Illini a 7-0 lead.

The Wildcats went three-and-out on their next drive, and the Illini offense was back in business near midfield. After Peters hit Casey Washington for 12 yards, the quarterback found a wide-open Williams for a 39-yard touchdown, opening up a 14-0 advantage less than nine minutes into the contest.

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Northwestern seemed to kick into gear on offense, making its way down the field on chunk plays before the Illinois defense forced an incompletion on fourth-and-5 at the Illini 24, putting the offense right back on the field.

Peters continued his hot start to the afternoon, finding Williams for 10 yards and Washington for 56, the team’s longest completion of the season, before Chase Brown pounded the ball in from a yard out three plays later to give Illinois a three-touchdown lead.

The Illini defense came up big once again, with Quan Marin picking off Ryan Hilinski, the Wildcats’ second quarterback of the day. Williams continued his big day on offense, finding a gap and finding the end zone on the ground from 21 yards out to give Illinois a 28-0 advantage.

Struggling all afternoon, the Northwestern offense finally got going on their sixth drive of the day, using two long completions through the air on the first two plays of the drive to get deep into Illinois territory. Nine plays and one fourth-down conversion later, the Wildcats found the end zone for the first time via a 1-yard quarterback sneak from Hilinski, cutting the visitors’ deficit to 28-7.

The Illinois offense maintained its momentum on the next drive, with Peters finding Williams for 27 yards on the second play of the drive before a 31-yard Brown carry put Illinois back in the red zone. Getting all the way down to the Wildcat 2, the Illini offense stalled following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, though James McCourt drilled a 28-yard field goal to put the Illini up 24 with just over four minutes left in the half.

After Northwestern went three-and-out on its next drive, Donny Navarro returned the subsequent punt 37 yards and put the offense back in business inside the opposing 27. The offense couldn’t get going, though, and a 36-yard McCourt field goal extended the Illini lead to 27.

Following another Wildcat three-and-out after three straight incompletions, Illinois took over at its own 38 and drove 55 yards down the field on eight plays before settling for a 25-yard McCourt field goal as time expired in the first half. The 37-7 lead was the team’s largest this century, while the Illini closed the opening 30 minutes of action with seven straight scoring drives.

The Illinois defense opened the second half the same way it ended the first: with a three-and-out. Four straight Brown carries, which included a 14-yard run on fourth-and-1 near midfield, quickly moved the Illini into Wildcat territory, though they would eventually have to settle for a 49-yard McCourt field goal, his fourth of the evening.

Neither team was able to garner much momentum during the rest of the fourth quarter, with Northwestern punting twice and Illinois punting once before the Illini were able to get going on offense once again.

Taking over at the Wildcat 45, the Illini used a 29-yard Brown carry, which sent him over 100 yards for the fourth time this season, to get inside the red zone. On third-and-17, though, the Wildcats forced their first turnover of the evening, intercepting a deflected Peters pass with less than a minute to go in the third quarter.

Northwestern couldn’t take advantage, going three-and-out and sending the Illinois offense back onto the field. Taking over at the 50-yard line, the Illini used five straight Josh McCray carries to get inside the Wildcat 30. Despite a 10-yard holding penalty, a 6-yard Reggie Love III carry and a 15-yard completion to Michael Marchese put Illinois back in the red zone.

Following three straight runs, a 6-yard Josh McCray touchdown run put Illinois up by 40, 47-7.

A 1-yard Evan Hull touchdown carry in the final minute of play put the final score at 47-14.



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