FINAL: Northwestern 37, Illinois 34
Northwestern backup quarterback Trevor Siemian threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns and Christian Jones caught 13 balls for 182 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Wildcats past Illinois 37-34 Saturday in the finale for both teams.
Beat writer Matt Daniels' postgame breakdown here.
Siemian started for the injured Kain Colter and was 31-44.
The win ended a seven-game losing streak for Northwestern (5-7, 1-8 Big Ten)
The Wildcats gashed an Illinois defense that has given up big yards and points all season. Northwestern’s 560 total yards made it the fifth team to top 500 yards against Illinois (4-8, 1-8).
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was 31-45 for 307 yards and two touchdowns in his last game at Illinois. His one interception was a game-changer.
Trailing 30-27 early in the fourth quarter, Tyler Scott picked off Scheelhaase at the Wildcat 47. Northwestern quickly scored the decisive touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Siemian to Jones. — AP
Northwestern 30, Illinois 27, 14:55 left in fourth quarter
Trevor Siemian hit Rashad Lawrence on a 23-yard pass to star the fourth quarter. It caps off a 98-yard scoring march by the Wildcats. A few more fans are taking to the exits here in Champaign. Can't really blame them.
Illinois 27, Northwestern 23, End of third quarter
Third quarter hero: Josh Ferguson. The third-quarter doldrums Illinois has experienced the majority of the season were nowhere to be found. Thanks in part to the elusive running back. Ferguson bolted free from the Northwestern defense on the second play of the third quarter for a 55-yard touchdown run.
Third quarter goat: Tony Jones. Justin DuVernois lined a punt almost directly at the Northwestern punt returner, standing near the 25-yard line. Jones waved both his arms, letting the ball roll. All the way down to the Wildcats' own 2-yard line. A 66-yard punt will go by DuVernois' name and a confounding mistake will go next to Jones.
Third quarter thoughts: Ferguson is fast. Fans should be excited to see what he can do in 2014. And the rest of this game. Taylor Zalewski has recovered nicely from his earlier missed field goal attempt, making his last two. This game may come down to the kickers. Jeff Budzien is gold for the Wildcats while Zalewski is a bit less refined product. But he's a product that has shown improvement throughout the season and will go into spring ball firmly supplanted as the starting kicker for the Illini. Pat Fitzgerald challenged a 2-yard catch by Steve Hull. Seriously. And won. Small fist bump for the Wildcats coach. Sigh from everyone else for extending this game even longer.
Illinois 27, Northwestern 23, 8:49 left in third quarter
Steve Hull is now eighth place on the Illinois single-season receiving list with 965 yards. He picked up 43 of those on a deep pass from Nathan Scheelhaase, which helped set up Taylor Zalewski's 37-yard field goal.
Illinois 24, Northwestern 23, 11:38 left in third quarter
Jeff Budzien kicked his third field goal of the day, this one a 42-yarder, and the Wildcats cut into Illinois' lead. We'll see if Josh Ferguson can break another long run into the end zone.
Illinois 24, Northwestern 20, 14:33 left in third quarter
Tim Beckman stressed all preseason he wanted Illinois to come out better in the second half. It took most of the season, but Illinois must have finally listened. Josh Ferguson broke free of the Northwestern defense en route to a 55-yard touchdown run on the second play of the second half.
Northwestern 20, Illinois 17, halftime
Second quarter hero: Steve Hull. The Illinois wideout could possibly make the highlight reels tonight. Across the country. It's not every day you see a wide receiver make a catch on his back. For a touchdown. Somehow, someway, that's what transpired when Nathan Scheelhaase lofted a 25-yard pass in the end zone targeting Hull. Maybe they worked on that when they roomed together freshman year. Doubt it, though.
Second quarter goat: Illinois' pass defense. The pass rush was better at times. But the linebackers and defensive backs did a poor job of preventing any sort of defense when Trevor Siemian had time to throw. It's why the Northwestern quarterback is on pace to throw 538 yards. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 269 yards in the first half. Could have been worse, too.
Second quarter thoughts: How did Hull make that catch? How did Hull make that catch? How did Hull make that catch? Illinois cheerleaders waved four large Illinois flags before the start of the second quarter. Spread those out in the dismal student section turnout — granted Illinois students are on Thanksgiving break — and it's a safe bet they could cover the north end zone. Wonder what they'll do at halftime with the placards? A cursive, lowercase I perhaps?
Northwestern 17, Illinois 17, 1:01 left in second quarter
Trevor Siemian's deep 54-yard pass to Rashad Lawrence put Northwestern in solid field position to tack on points. Which the Wildcats didn't. Pat Fitzgerald's holder, Brandon Williams, misfired badly on a fake field goal attempt, preventing Northwestern from taking the lead.
Illinois 17, Northwestern 17, 5:13 left in second quarter
Taylor Zalewski kicked a 51-yard field goal. Into the wind. With room to spare. Illinois has knotted the game up here in Champaign thanks to a season-long field goal from the sophomore.
Northwestern 17, Illinois 14, 7:12 left in second quarter
Dan Vitale ran untouched after a short pass from Trevor Siemian into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown pass. The Illinois secondary didn't put up much resistance as the Northwestern quarterback effectively marched the Wildcats down the field. Siemian is 15 of 22 for 193 yards and two scores. In the game's first 22 minutes.
Illinois 14, Northwestern 10, 11:08 left in second quarter
Josh Ferguson dove across the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown. It might have come with a price, however. He was slow to get up, but jogged off the field. Nathan Scheelhaase looked sharp on the drive, hitting Miles Osei on a 19-yard completion to set up Ferguson's touchdown.
Northwestern 10, Illinois 7, 13:36 left in second quarter
Don't think they drew it up that way. But Nathan Scheelhaase's 25-yard touchdown pass to Steve Hull worked out in an incredible way. Scheelhaase was on the run to his right, floated the ball towards the end zone. Hull looked like he slipped. Flat on his back, he stuck out his hands and caught it in front of a stunned Nick VanHoose, the Northwestern defensive back on coverage. Unreal.
Northwestern 10, Illinois 0, end of first quarter
First quarter hero: Trevor Siemian. He's looking like Mike Kafka. Dan Persa. Zak Kustok. Brett Basanez. Steve Schnur. All former Northwestern great signal-callers. All who played in bowl games. This is Siemian and his teammates' bowl game in a sense. Siemian started hot, hitting his first six passes. He's cooled down a bit, but is still 10 of 15 for 135 yards.
First quarter goat: Rashad Lawrence. The Northwestern wideout caught a touchdown pass. Except he went out of bounds first, negating the 3-yard completion from Trevor Siemian. He stays inbounds, and Pat Fitzgerald's team opens up a 7-0 lead instead of a 3-0 lead after the first possession of the game.
First quarter thoughts: I wonder if all these people here today would fit inside State Farm Center? I'd say so. The News-Gazette's guess for actual people in the stands at kickoff is between 15,000 and 18,000. Give or take a few thousand. Siemian is not playing today like he has much of the last two months early on. The Northwestern quarterback completed his first six passes before Earnest Thomas broke up a pass intended for Dan Vitale, a former News-Gazette All-Stater. No relation to Dick Vitale. Last name pronounced Vie-TALLY. And he's a superback. Not just a tight end. A superback. Super is the way Siemian is slinging the ball around today. Northwestern's starting quarterback next year will go into 2014 feeling good about himself if he keeps picking apart the Illinois defense like he is. Illinois has made two nice special team plays on punts, with Jevaris Little and Justin Hardee corralling Northwestern punt returner Tony Jones before he could gain a yard. That was about the only positive for Illinois in the first nine minutes. They're playing for the Land of Lincoln Trophy. Winner gets a top hat. Does anybody wear top hats anymore?
Northwestern 10, Illinois 0, 7:27 left in first quarter
The Wildcats' running game hasn't hurt Illinois so far. Trevor Siemian has, though. The Northwestern quarterback just hit Christian Jones on a 27-yard touchdown pass to give the Wildcats the early advantage. Keep this up and Siemian could approach Devin Gardner-like numbers by the end of the day.
Northwestern 3, Illinois 0, 10:49 left in first quarter
Northwestern methodically marched down the field, with Trevor Siemian doing his best Kain Colter impression on a 15-yard run off a quarterback option to set up Budzien's field goal. But Illinois' defense didn't break, even with the Wildcats having first-and-goal inside the 10-yard line. An illegal touching penalty wiped out a possible Northwestern touchdown, so the Wildcats settled for a 21-yard field goal by Jeff Budzien.
Much of the attention in the press box the last 10 minutes was on the Ohio State-Michigan game. Which had a thrilling finish in Ann Arbor. But the Buckeyes and Urban Meyer are still unbeaten, escaping with a 42-41 win to keep Ohio State's BCS title game hopes alive. If you didn't get to see the fourth quarter, make sure you do. Some exciting stuff.
Nathan Scheelhaase and the rest of the Illinois seniors went through a pregame ceremony on Senior Day. Tim Beckman exchanged handshakes and hugs with all players, but went straight for the hug with Scheelhaase. Scheelhaase had his mom, LouAnn, and wife, Morgan, walking with him. His dad, Nate Creer, is barred from campus for a year after he was arrested following a fight in the stands during the Michigan State game on Oct. 26.
Scheelhaased high-fived his mom after taking photos with Beckman and his family at midfield before putting his arm around Morgan. Fifteen seniors in all were recognized before the game, but Scheelhaase, by far, had the loudest cheer of any player. Rightly so.
Plenty of purple mixed in with orange today. And Wildcat fans are moving down towards the vast amounts of unoccupied seats in Memorial Stadium. The astute eye of Loren Tate caught that development.
And here's picks from some of the assembled media who have gathered in Champaign today. And no, the people in the press box don't outnumber the people in the stands. At least we don't think so, but us journalist are bad at math.
I went with Illinois 25, Northwestern 23. I'll keep that pick. Of course, if I'm wrong, I had Northwestern all the way.
Bob Asmussen is going with Illinois 34, Northwestern 28. If that scores sounds familiar to any Illinois fan when it comes to Northwestern, you're not delusional. Illinois beat Northwestern by that score in 2001 en route to a Sugar Bowl appearance.
Here's what the rest of our distinguished panel picked:
Mark Tupper, Decatur Herald & Review: Northwestern 27, Illinois 23
Steve Greenberg, Chicago Sun-Times: Illinois 34, Northwestern 30
Herb Gould, Chicago Sun-Times: Northwestern 27, Illinois 23
Chris Hine, Chicago Tribune: Illinois 38, Northwestern 34
Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune: Northwestern 23, Illinois 20
Jamal Collier, Gatehouse Media: Northwestern 31, Illinois 27
Jeremy Werner, ESPN CU: Northwestern 26, Illinois 22
Robert Rosenthal, Illiniboard.com: Illinois 33, Northwestern 28
30 minutes until kickoff
Miles Osei is close with Ryan Lankford. The two wide receivers have developed a tight bond during their career at Illinois. So close that Osei will wear No. 12 during today's game.
That's Lankford's number, but the speedy wideout hasn't had a chance to wear it in a game since suffering a season-ending dislocated shoulder against Michigan State on Oct. 26. Osei will wear his customary No. 8 during Senior Day ceremonies before donning No. 12 for the game.
Nice tribute by Osei, who has been adaptable throughout his entire Illinois career. You'd be hard-pressed to find a quarterback handle the position switch as gracefully as Osei has, especially after the impressive high school career he had at quarterback.
Looks like the Block I is trying to put orange and blue placards in place in the north end zone so they avoid having the same problem befall them like what happened at Ohio State, where they didn't have enough students to spell out two capital I's. Good luck. Best way to ensure the students show up for a football game? Have a good football team.
Like Ohio State. After a slow start at the Big House, the Buckeyes are pulling away from Michigan. As expected. Looks like Urban Meyer becomes a big fan of Auburn in a few hours. Florida State will win handily at Florida, so the Seminoles are still in the driver's seat for a BCS title game berth.
And as soon as I type that, Michigan scores a touchdown and only trails 35-28. The sportswriter's jinx lives.
Won't see Matt Sinclair on the sidelines for today's game. The Illinois assistant director of player personnel and alumni relations is on an administrative-ordered leave of absence after he was arrested last Saturday on gun-related charges. Who knows if the former Illinois linebacker will ever be back in his role Tim Beckman hired him to do so in mid-April.
Be back at kickoff.
60 minutes until kickoff
Nathan Scheelhaase and Corey Lewis are two of the seniors that will be honored today.
Here's the full list of players who will be honored before today's game: Jonathan Brown, Jake Feldmeyer, Nick Forzley, Spencer Harris, Steve Hull, Brad Janitz, Tim Kynard, Ryan Lankford, Lewis, Ben Mathis, Miles Osei, Daniel Quintana, Tim Russell, Scheelhaase and Evan Wilson.
Russell might have the best arm on the team. No lie. The former St. Charles East quarterback turned holder at Illinois can probably throw a football 70 yards in the air. Maybe 75 with a good wind at his back. Find out more from one of the leaders of the Illinois special teams right here.
Feldmeyer is slated to make his third start in a row at center. Here's more from the fifth-year senior.
"All my family, a couple of my aunts and uncles will be here," Feldmeyer said. "It will definitely be emotional because it’s been a long time here and have put in a lot of work. At the same time, it’s exciting to move onto another chapter in my life."
Feldmeyer graduated last spring and wasn't guaranteed a starting spot, yet never thought about not coming back. His resiliency is on display as well as his beard. Which he hasn't cut since before Camp Rantoul. And decided to grow out in homage to former Illinois offensive lineman Jack Cornell.
"It kind of pushes out from my helmet," Feldmeyer said. "It’s getting pretty thick. It just started going."
Northwestern will wear an all-white uniform combination. Looks like purple helmets, too, but my eyesight is failing me from the press box. It's rough getting old.
Speaking of rough. Has anyone seen the ending to the Class 3A state title game last night between St. Joseph-Ogden and Stillman Valley? Well, here you go. Fumble? No fumble? That play in particular came on the touchdown Stillman Valley scored in the first overtime of St. Joseph-Ogden's 43-41 loss. What a game it was. Highly entertaining. Highly competitive. Probably the best game I've seen, prep, college or NFL, this fall. It was that good.
And a good time to bring instant replay into the equation for state title games in football. With the technology and TV cameras at the game, why not? It would only help prevent possible controversies like what ensued last night in DeKalb.
Maybe today's game will top that. Highly doubt it, but who knows. And will anybody be here to watch it? My early guess on the crowd an hour before kickoff is around 137. It has the makings of a Miami Marlins crowd.
Be back in another half hour.
90 minutes until kickoff
Illinois will wear a different uniform combination today. One it hasn't worn all season. Tim Beckman's team will go with its orange helmets, blue jerseys and white tops. So there you go, for what's it worth.
Not sure who the Illinois captains will be today. The players usually vote on them every Thursday during the season, but Beckman said today's captains will be the captains for the year, so he was keeping mum on who the four players were. Have a feeling one will be Nathan Scheelhaase and perhaps Corey Lewis. Had a chance to catch up with Lewis earlier this week. Today will be a special day for the sixth-year right tackle, who has overcome three torn ACLs and five knee surgeries. Find out more about the journey Lewis has taken to get here today right here.
Recruiting will intensify for Illinois in the aftermath of today's games. Beckman will send multiple assistants out on the road tomorrow through Friday. He'll have the same schedule as well, including the keynote speech at Tom Lemming's All-Area Underclassmen banquet at Soldier Field on Wednesday evening. Other recruiting notes, and tidbits of info revolving around today's game can be found right here.
Illinois men's basketball survived IPFW last night here in Champaign, squeezing out a 57-55 win at State Farm Center. While the margin of victory was a bit surprising, the Illini hoops team continued another unbeaten run through November. The football team can't say that, however. Granted, the scheduling amps up for Illinois football in November and Illinois basketball usually plays its share of lightweights early on, but Illinois has not finished a November unbeaten since the 2007 season.
The IHSA state championships are well into their second day up in DeKalb. Today's game is the reason why the state finals are no longer in Champaign. There might be a bigger crowd for the state finals up in DeKalb than what you'll see here today. It looks like an Illinois commit is close to securing a state title. Wide receiver Malik Turner and his Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin teammates are leading Montini 31-21 with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Turner has had a superb senior season. So good that he was an easy choice for our 78th annual All-State football team. Find the entire list of players here, along with a superb story from Bob Asmussen about our Player of the Year.
Be back in another half hour.
Two hours until kickoff
Good afternoon college football fans. Matt Daniels here with you on a sunny, breezy day here in Champaign. Gorgeous weather. Probably couldn't ask for a more ideal forecast.
Illinois will try to finish 5-7 on the season today. No bowl aspirations for the Illini, but Illinois has not ended its year with two straight wins since the 1999 season that finished with a blowout victory of Virginia in the Micronpc.com Bowl.
And in seasons that haven't ended with a bowl game, i.e. a losing season, Illinois has not finished with consecutive wins since the 1971 campaign. Bob Blackman's first team finished 5-6, but won its final five games of the season.
Blackman lasted six seasons on the sidelines for the Illini. Tim Beckman will get to half of that. At least. No way Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas lets Beckman go after his second season. Lose at Purdue last Saturday, and that's a possibility. But Beckman secured his third season with last week's win, albeit not a glamorous one at that.
Who knows what the attendance will look like today. The parking lots were less full than usual when The News-Gazette travel party arrived at Memorial Stadium. Less fans tailgating and less fans lined up along Kirby Avenue for the Illini Walk.
Doubt it will be anything like the sparse crowd last Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., but possibly the least-attended home game of the season. Students are on Thanksgiving break, so don't expect a large Block I section in the north end zone, either. I'll be interested to see what they do with the placards at halftime. Here is what it looked like during the last home game against Ohio State two weeks ago.
Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes are struggling right now in Ann Arbor. Brady Hoke is looking like the smartest coach ever right now for the Wolverines, who are leading Urban Meyer's team 21-14 with less than five minutes left before halftime. Probably no one could have predicted that before today.
Both Illinois and Northwestern have arrived at Memorial Stadium.Both teams filtered in around 12:15 p.m., with Illinois gathering at midfield for a brief prayer like it usually does before heading into its locker room while Northwestern players stretched near the north end zone, working out. With medicine balls.
It was pretty intense. Unlike any pregame workout an opposing team has conducted before a game here this season at Memorial Stadium. Or any Illinois game I've seen this year. We'll see if that intensity carries over into the game for the Wildcats, who hold a longer losing streak overall and in the Big Ten than Illinois does.
Be back in a half hour.