Illini, Williams stun Wolverines

It took seven tries, but the Illinois football team has finally beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team in 2009.

After beating Michigan by a score of 38-13 on Saturday, a different mood washed over a team that couldn’t seem to buy a victory.

And for one senior quarterback, who has broken three stadium records for total offense in a single game, beat No. 5 Wisconsin at home in 2007 and defeated No. 1 Ohio State at “The Horseshoe” to engineer a Rose Bowl run, Saturday’s game was both unfamiliar and special in its own unique way.

“Today, the feeling that you have after the game, it definitely ranks up there with my entire career,” Juice Williams said.

Visions of the Illinois football team everyone expected to see seemed to be forming on the first drive of the game when Williams engineered a drive that ended in an Arrelious Benn run for a touchdown – his first in over a year — for a 7-0 Illini lead.

But the 2009 version of the Illini reared its ugly head after that.

Michigan running back Carlos Brown scored on a 2-yard touchdown run on the next drive, Illinois’ Matt Eller missed a field goal and Michigan made two, as the Illini were blanked for the rest of the half and trailed 13-7 at the break.

The first drive of the second half started no differently.

But then Illini freshman cornerback Terry Hawthorne made a play that turned Illinois’ fortunes around.

Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier completed a pass to receiver Roy Roundtree, who streaked down the open field, 15 yards ahead of any Illini defensive back.

But Hawthorne showed the speed that made him the Illini’s highest-profile freshman as he chased Roundtree down and tackled him into the end zone.

The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but a video review overturned the call and put the ball on the 1-yard line.

“A lot of guys would have quit,” head coach Ron Zook said. “Terry didn’t quit, he kept going and made what may be the play of the game, and the play of the year.”

Hawthorne’s rundown seemed to ignite the Illinois defense, which stuffed Brown for no gain on the next three plays and Brandon Minor on fourth down, and the Illini offense suddenly had the ball and some momentum, still down only 13-7.

After the Illini ran the ball to get away from their goal line on the next few plays, Williams completed a 17-yard pass to Jeff Cumberland, who moved back to his original tight end position from receiver with Michael Hoomanawanui and Hubie Graham out with injuries.

Running back Mikel LeShoure then cut through the Michigan defensive line and ran for 70 of his 150 yards for Illinois’ second touchdown of the day, giving Illinois a 14-13 lead and the charge it needed to take control.

“They made me right sometimes today,” relieved offensive coordinator Mike Schultz said. “I was wrong sometimes, and our kids made me right, and that’s great.”

The Illini defense then induced back-to-back three-and-outs from the Michigan offense, and Williams followed the stops with a 2-yard touchdown pass to London Davis and a 3-yard touchdown run of his own for a 28-13 lead.

Williams completed 8 of 11 passes for 123 yards and rushed for 97 yards, as the boos from Illini fans turned back to calls of “Juice.”

The Illini closed out the game with a field goal and a Jason Ford touchdown in the fourth quarter, as they blanked Michigan in the second half.

Ford had 128 rushing yards of his own on Saturday, adding to the Illini rushing total of 377.

But the story of the day was Williams, who added to the roller coaster that has been his Illini career.

“I think for the next 24 hours, I’ll have a feeling that the past is done,” Williams said. “For 24 hours, I’m undefeated.”