Sunday, September 04, 2005

Do You Believe It? The Deuce

Ventured back to Champaign yesterday for the beginning of the Ron Zook era in Illinois Football. For three quarters The Illini were as dismal a sight as they have been for the past three years -- the three years that finally cost Ron Turner his job.

For the fourth quarter, and the improbable overtime that followed, pure magic.

The opponent, from the State University of New Jersey (SUNJ ... OK, Rutgers), was a middling member of a piddling conference (The Big Least). Yet for three quarters it was total domination for the Scarlet Knights, who took a commanding 27-7 lead early in the third.

The Illini returned to the game, slowly at first, with a couple of Jason Reda field goals to pull within two touchdowns with 12 minutes left.

The defense stiffened in the fourth, ending two drives with punts and one with a key field goal block. The offense, meanwhile, finally found its footing. New QB Tim Brasic got his nerves under control, the O-line finally started blocking, and the highly-touted running backs (Pierre "Frenchy" Thomas and E.B. "Admiral" Halsey) took over the game.

A six-play 54-yard drive brought it to 27-20, and after the blocked FGA a nine-play 65-yard drive tied the score at 27, capped by the Admiral diving into the end zone from five yards out with just over a minute left.

The Illini even manged to wrest the ball back one more time, setting up a 52-yard game winning attempt. The ugly kick was pushed to the crossbar by the stiff wind, but stayed wide right. Overtime.

In the OT, SUNJ took a key holding call on their possession and settled for a field goal. 30-27.

The Illini possession was highlighted by the play of the game, a 20-yard pass run by the Admiral that shifted from one side of the field to the other before coming ashore at the 2. After a SUNJ timeout to discuss their long, losing flight home, Frenchy took the ball to the house and the win was secured.


It may not mean much by itself, but it did set a tone. The last couple of Illini squads would have folded when things got tough. If nothing else, Zook has already managed to turn the team around mentally. The schedule will get a whole lot tougher later in the year, but this will be one to remember regardless of the final record.

And my new orange Illini t-shirt is now 2 magical wins in 2 appearances. Pics:

Kickoff of a new era.
The crowd was orange-y.
Luther Head was on hand ...
... along with Sergio McClain...
... Calvin Brock (makin' time with the shorties) ...
... and my shorty.
Check out the scoreboard...
... and exult!


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