CHAMPAIGN — When Tim Beckman emerged from the Illinois locker room after Saturday's 24-7 win against Western Michigan, his hair, visor and blue pullover were soaked.
Don't blame Tropical Storm Isaac. The expected torrential downpour never materialized.
When you win football games at Illinois, you get wet. Beckman, the first-year UI coach, found that out Saturday.
"If you've been in our locker room, we take that 'I' and we don't let anyone walk on that 'I' until you've won a victory," Beckman said. "We celebrated as a football team like you're supposed to after each victory because each victory is huge in the game of football when you get, at the most, 14 opportunities."
A 64-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Scheelhaase to Ryan Lankford on the fourth play from scrimmage eased the tension for the Illini.
Senior Ashante Williams, who led the Illini with a career-high nine tackles, sealed it with a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
At the time, the Illini offense was sputtering and the Broncos were driving, trailing 17-7.
"It was huge. The momentum kind of swung to our side after that pick," Beckman said.
Michael Buchanan (two tackles for loss, sack) and Earnest Thomas (six tackles) also intercepted passes, and Jonathan Brown (six tackles) recovered a fumble.
But not all the news coming from Memorial Stadium was positive after the win.
Scheelhaase (126 passing yards, 21 rushing, TD) left the game in the third quarter with an injury to his left ankle. He'll be evaluated this week as Illinois prepares for its game at Arizona State.
"He said he's fine and he'll be ready to go," backup quarterback Reilly O'Toole said.
"You know Nathan Scheelhaase. He will do whatever he can to make sure he's prepared for next week," Beckman said.
The injury didn't sour the celebration, though. Beckman and Buchanan shared a long embrace on the field — "We wanted to get it for him," Buchanan said — and Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas presented the new coach with the game ball in the locker room.
"Mike Thomas was gracious enough to give me the game ball, but this is not my game ball, this is the team's game ball," Beckman said. "That game ball, we're going to get it framed. This is the first victory of the new era."