2011 Illinois Fighting Illini Football

Big Ten football fans

Illinois vs Northwestern Football Recap

Illinois 38, Northwestern 35


The Northwestern Wildcats do make bowl games every year, but they still allow very big fishes to get away each and every season. Last year, Northwestern allowed a 17-point lead to evaporate against Michigan State. This past weekend, an 18-point second-half advantage went by the boards, as a plucky rival stole the show and continued one of the feel-good joyrides of the young college football campaign.

The Illinois Fighting Illini scored 21 fourth-quarter points in a come-from-behind win over the visiting Northwestern Wildcats. Illinois is now 5-0 for the first time since 1951, taking a lot of heat off head coach Ron Zook after an offseason filled with uncertainty and doubt.

Illinois trailed 28-10 in the third quarter, and 28-17 entering the fourth before fighting back to take a 31-28 lead. Northwestern fullback Jacob Schmidt scored a touchdown with 1:15 left that gave the Wildcats a 35-31 lead. However, a one-yard plunge by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase with 13 seconds left to play turned the tables, plunged a dagger into the hearts of the Wildcats, and landed the game-winning blow for an Illinois team that has evaded every landmine on its schedule to this point in the season.

Receiver A.J. Jenkins was the offensive star for the Illini, hauling in 12 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Scheelhaase completed 21 of 32 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns. He was picked off once, but he definitely came good when it mattered at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois.

Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa, sidelined since last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, was solid in his 2011 debut, completing 10 of 14 passes for 123 yards and four touchdowns. Backup Kain Colter took some snaps as well, usually to run the ball, because Persa has not yet regained full mobility. Moreover, it appeared that Persa got nicked up once again late in the third quarter, casting his short-term future into question once again. It was Colter who led the Wildcats on the fourth-quarter drive that gave Northwestern its short-lived 35-31 lead. Jeremy Ebert caught five passes for 68 yards and three touchdowns for the Wildcats, including back-to-back TD receptions in the third quarter that gave Northwestern its biggest lead.


The Illini rushed for just 82 yards on 38 attempts and turned the ball over three times in a mistake-filled performance that also included an offensive pass interference penalty which negated a first-half touchdown. Illinois’ top rusher was Donovonn Young, who carried eight times for 29 yards and a touchdown. Scheelhaase gained 35 yards on 20 rush attempts. Tailbacks Jason Ford and Troy Pollard combined for 18 yards on 10 carries. Given those stats, one would have thought this game shoudn’t have been close in the fourth quarter. However, Northwestern’s defense – so strong for two and a half quarters – simply couldn’t close the sale, a frequent lamentation for the school from Evanston, Illinois.

As successful as NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has been, he has presided over many late-stage collapses such as this one. These stomach-punch losses represent the kinds of games that are preventing Northwestern from attaining the proverbial next level of achievement.

As for the victorious Illini? They reached the Rose Bowl under the Zooker in the 2007 season. If they continue to pull fistfights out of the fire as they did this past Saturday, they might be able to make another run at a prestigious January bowl game.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer



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