Illinois loses heartbreaker in Bloomington, sending them home 1-1


Sydney Laput

Junior running back Chase Brown watches from the end zone during warm ups for Saturday’s game against Wyoming. Illinois lost against Indiana, 23-20.

By Jonathan Alday, Assistant Sports Editor

After an explosive start to the season over Wyoming, Illinois took a trip across the Indiana state line to take on the Indiana Hoosiers.

Illinois took the field on the opening kickoff after electing to receive. While the opening drive fizzled out after the first play, the defense

Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown set the tone immediately. Witherspoon read a screen on Indiana’s first play, while Brown read a read option, sacking Indiana quarterback Connor Bazelak, a transfer from Mizzou.

The stops wouldn’t pay off as Bazelak hit wide receiver Cam Camper for 40 yards putting the Hoosiers in scoring position. After a short run by Indiana, a pass interference call was given against defensive back Taz Nicholson, placing Indiana closer to the end zone.

The offense would stall near the 20-yard line, forcing Indiana to take the field goal.

After overshooting wide receiver Isaiah Williams on the first play of the second drive, DeVito evaded the rush, going up the middle for the first down. Illinois started pounding the ball down the Indiana defensive line, with running back Chase Brown taking the next three plays for 47 yards down the field.

DeVito then hit wide receiver Pat Bryant for 21, putting them a few yards away from the goal line. Illinois, seeing Indiana substituting players on defense, caught the opponent in confusion, with Williams taking the jet sweep into the endzone, putting Illinois on time early.

With the Hoosiers with the ball back, they saw plenty of open wide receivers which Bazelak overthrew. The Illinois defense finished the job, with a read by linebacker Tarique Barnes pushing Indiana back a few yards and a quarterback pressure by Johnny Newton, leading to an incompletion by Bazelak.

With the ball back, Illinois started to push the ball down Indiana’s throat with short runs. However, after a misplaced pass which forced tight end Luke Ford to make an awkward turn for the ball, it was forced loose by Indiana linebacker Cam Jones, leading to a turnover.

Indiana was unable to take advantage of the interception, however, with Indiana going three-and-out. Illinois followed up with a three-and-out of their own, which following a penalty on the punting team, punter Hugh Robertson shanking his second punt of the night.

Indiana followed it up with a deep strike up the middle to D.J. Matthews, beating the Illinois cover two, putting the game back in their favor.

The Illini wasted no time driving the ball back down the field, with a screen to Williams for 20 yards and another deep shot to Bryant for 22, putting them on the Indiana 33-yard line. After a few more plays, Illinois took another deep shot to the end zone to Brian Hightower. Although arguably being seen as a touchdown, the ruling on the field was incomplete. The play was reviewed and although the Fox Sports broadcast believed it was going to be overturned, the ruling stood.

The drive continued for another down, with DeVito pitching the ball to Brown, who threw the ball a bit too high for Bryant to catch. Illinois settled for a field goal, tying the game up 10-10.

The Hoosier offense responded with a deep shot of their own, passing to Camper for 39 yards. The big gain would be slowed down after an incompletion and a short run, leading to a field goal for Indiana to keep the game tight.

With the ball back, Illinois started chugging at first. Williams took a screen for 11 yards, cutting and juking the defenders before getting a first down. However, after a stuffed run, a dropped pass by Williams and a drop by tight end Michael Marchese, Illinois was forced to punt.

What ensued is a long drive for Indiana, completing three third downs before Indiana kicker Charles Campbell hit another ball for three, extending the Indiana lead to six.

With the Illinois defense on the field to start the second half, it didn’t take long for them to make a play, with Kendall Smith intercepting a tipped pass, placing the offense on the Indiana 41 after an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on Smith.

After some gains by Brown and Hightower, Illinois found themselves on the Indiana 16-yard line, knocking on the Indiana doorstep. After being taken away from a touchdown earlier in the game, Hightower took the ball in the flat, stiff-arming a defender for a touchdown.

After a long drive by Indiana, they were forced to pass after the Illinois defensive line pressured Bazelak to throw the ball early on multiple occasions, leading to multiple quarterback hits.

Even though Illinois got off hot with some runs by Brown, the momentum quickly stalled out after a few incomplete passes and loss of yards by running back Chase Hayden on the ground. Luckily for the offense, the Illinois defense continued to stuff the short game of Indiana, with Illinois corners and safeties consistently playing physically and with speed to the ball.

With the ball back, Illinois started to splinter away again, making it down to the Indiana 20-yard line before a lateral pass was fumbled by Brown and eventually recovered by Indiana.

Though the momentum shifted with the fumble, Indiana stumbled quickly with Johnny Newton sacking Bazelak to end the third quarter.

Indiana punted to start the fourth quarter, pinning Illinois to their own 34-yard line. With big gains by Brown and Williams, the Illini found themselves quickly in red zone territory. WIth the help of a pass interference call against Bryant, Illinois was on the Indiana 6-yard line. However, after multiple attempts Illinois found themselves in a fourth down situation on the Indiana 1-yard line. Illinois elected to go for it, however, the Indiana defense stood on their head, stuffing Brown behind the line, leaving Illinois with no points while only being up one.

However, Illinois defense proved formidable against the Indiana offense, allowing only three yards on the drive, forcing Indiana to take their sixth punt of the night.

After third down heroics by DeVito to keep the drive alive for Illinois, DeVito threw a pick putting the fate of the team back into defensive coordinator Ryan Walter’s hands once again. The defense met the challenge, with Nicholson ripping the ball out of Camper’s hands, giving Illinois another chance to seal the game.

With only 4:36 to go, Illinois started to pick away, gaining more yardage on the backs of Brown and Williams, clearly Illinois’ most valuable weapons on offense. However, after a few attempts and a hold by Illinois, they were unable to convert, leaving their fate on kicker Caleb Griffin, who had gone one-of-three last week against Wyoming. After being iced out by Indiana using their last timeout, Griffin lined up from 48 yards, booting it straight down the middle, giving Illinois a four-point lead.

With only 2:16 left on the clock, Indiana started moving down the field, needing a touchdown to win. Bazelak moved the ball with efficiency, moving the Hoosiers from the Indiana 25 to the Illinois five-yard line in less than two minutes. Suspense was high as the Illinois defense needed a stop to seal the game for Illinois. The first down was thrown away by Bazelak, followed by a short run by Bazelak up the middle for four yards, placing them on the one-yard line. All that was left was a rush by Shaun Shivers to give Indiana the lead with 23 seconds left in the game.

With two timeouts left, Illinois was tasked with an insurmountable challenge, starting at the 25-yard line, travel across the field to make at least a field goal to tie it.

Illinois started with a 19-yard pass to Williams, placing them on their own 44. On the next play, the pass was broken up to Williams.

DeVito was sacked by the incoming Indiana rush, making it third-and-36 with seven seconds left. DeVito threw an incomplete pass on the next play, making it fourth down for the Illini.

On the final play of the game, Illinois attempted a miracle play, however, Hightower was unable to lateral, fubling, and sending Illinois home with a heartbreaking loss. Final score: 23-20.

Illinois goes 1-1 on the season, leaving them with a tough pill to swallow heading into their next game, a home matchup against Virginia next Saturday.

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