Illinois football stuns Nebraska with last-minute drive
October 3, 2015
While running into the locker room after Illinois’ 14-13 win over Nebraska on Saturday, wide receiver Geronimo Allison embraced head coach Bill Cubit.
It wasn’t a quick tap on the shoulder or the occasional handshake they’ve had after past wins. Instead, Allison told Cubit how blessed they both were.
The Illini took advantage of the last minute of the game to beat the Cornhuskers for the first time since 1924. Allison caught the game-winning touchdown with just 10 seconds to go.
“I think we played with a sense of urgency,” Allison said. “It was getting down to the wire. We just came out with a spark and a burst.”
The Illini were scoreless until the fourth quarter, having dropped a few passes and missing two field goals beforehand.
Illinois scored a touchdown within the opening two minutes of that quarter when quarterback Wes Lunt hooked up with Marchie Murdock on a 22-yard touchdown pass.
Then, Lunt led Illinois on a game-winning six-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that began with 51 seconds remaining. He got the Illini down the field with a 50-yard pass to Malik Turner and capped it off with a one-yard touchdown pass to Allison.
The drive gave Cubit his first Big Ten win as Illinois’ head coach and improved the Illini’s Big Ten win streak to three games, stemming back to last season.
Illinois struggled to gain momentum, even when it seemed that a controversial officiating decision would give the team a shot of energy.
In the third quarter, Allison caught a quick slant and came up just short of a first down.
Officials said the play occurred on third down, but ultimately they ruled that the pass play was actually fourth down and gave the ball to Nebraska via a turn over on downs.
The officials running the chains were the source of the issue — they had incorrectly given the Illini a first down and were marking off the downs behind of the actual down count.
Clayton Fejedelem intercepted Tommy Armstrong Jr. on the ensuing drive and the Illini appeared to gain some momentum, but came to a halt on offense following the turnover.
In the series after, Illinois had a penalty and was forced to punt. Cubit and Lunt were visibly frustrated following the series.
“We did a heck of a job moving the ball today,” Lunt said. “I just think we did a bad job of not putting it in the endzone.”
Lunt went 23-for-45 with 251 yards and two touchdowns. Instead of its usual pass-first approach, the offense relied heavily on the run for the majority of the game.
Senior Josh Ferguson exited the game with a shoulder injury in the first half and freshman Ke’Shawn Vaughn took over, rushing for 98 yards on 24 carries. Ferguson had four carries for 50 yards before leaving the game.
In the the first quarter, Nebraska muffed a punt return and Illinois recovered the ball on Nebraska’s 39-yard line. But the Illini couldn’t capitalize on the Huskers’ miscue and kicker Taylor Zalewski missed a 51-yard field goal to cap off the drive.
While he missed two field goals, he made both extra points, including one following Allison’s fourth quarter touchdown, which sealed the win for the.
The Illinois defense put pressure on the Nebraska passing game all afternoon and held the Huskers in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. went 10-for-31 with 105 yards and one interception. Star wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp was limited to just one reception for -1 yard.
The Illini finished with 382 total yards, including 131 on the ground. Nebraska finished with 292 yards — its lowest total of the season so far and far less than its previous low, a 445-yard effort against BYU.
For Allison and Cubit, the win wasn’t a surprise. Allison knew they had come a long way since the season started and Cubit gave the credit to his players.
“I’m not stunned, because of the type of kids we have,” Cubit said.