Late Allison TD delivers Illinois win over Nebraska, 14-13
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) With a strong, gusty wind swirling around, drizzle flying and Illinois running out of time, Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt tried four times to hit receiver Geronimo Allison on the right side of the Nebraska end zone.
Three times, it didn’t work.
But with 10 seconds left in the game, Lunt connected with the senior receiver, low and just inside the right corner of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown that, after Taylor Zalewski’s extra point, gave Illinois (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) an unlikely 14-13 win.
Allison, who had eight catches for 91 yards, said he had no doubt Lunt would try to hit him yet again on that last play.
”It’s who the quarterback has the most confidence with. I got a feeling he’s coming my way,” said Allison, who rose to his knees after he caught the ball, pointing skyward. He acknowledged later that he’d cried after the win.
The loss was painful for Nebraska (2-3, 0-1), following the Cornhuskers overtime defeat at Miami and a loss to BYU on the final play of that game. Nebraska has lost three games by a total of nine points.
First-year coach Mike Riley said this one might have been the toughest.
”I don’t ever remember losing a game like this,” he said, adding later, ”This one will be interesting (to come back from) for sure.”
”It hurts,” linebacker Chris Weber added. ”Every loss hurts. Every loss is a gut-punch.”
The Illini overcame a pair of missed field goals by Zalewski, four early trips into the red zone that produced no points, a 13-0 fourth-quarter deficit and a crowd peppered with as much red and black as orange and blue.
Illinois also had to deal with almost a century of history to get the win – the Illini haven’t beaten Nebraska since a 9-6 win in 1924 – and more recent history. Cubit took over when head coach Tim Beckman was fired a week before the season opener over allegations of abusive treatment by several former players.
The win, Cubit said, might be the best in his long career, including two straight losing seasons as offensive coordinator at Illinois.
”The last couple of years, to be honest with you, it’s probably been pretty hard at times,” he said.
With receivers dropping balls from Lunt and struggling to make adjustments in the wind – not to mention starting running back Josh Ferguson being knocked out of the game late in the first quarter with a should injury – defense kept the Illini in the game.
Nebraska managed just 292 total yards. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. finished the day 10-31 for 105 yards and an interception.
But Nebraska had been able to bang through the Illinois defense on the ground, finishing with 187 yards.
And the Cornhuskers had a chance to kill off most of the game’s final minute using the run.
But on a third-and-7 at the Illini 27, Armstrong rolled right and tried to pass but it fell incomplete, and after a fourth-down incompletion, Illinois had the chance it needed and 51 seconds to work with.
Riley said after the game that the decision to throw was Armstrong’s.
”The whole intention of it was a quarterback run,” Riley said. ”My first reaction was surprised.”
On the Illinois sideline, Lunt was surprised, too. He and his teammates had been calculating how much time the Illini might have left, best case, if Nebraska ran the ball.
”We came up with like 29 seconds. The extra (22) seconds, that was huge,” he said. ”If I was in that situation, I’d try to milk the clock.”
Lunt was 23-45 for 251 yards and two touchdowns.
For much of the first half, the upper hand was there for Illinois to take.
The Cornhuskers stumbled to three three-and-outs to and a fumbled punt on their first four possessions.
The Illini could move the ball, but only until they neared the end zone.
Three trips into the Nebraska red zone produced the two missed field goals, from 51 and 41 yards, and a failed fourth-down attempt at the Cornhusker 13. And the half’s final play ended with Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 48-yard run to the Nebraska 12, putting a fourth empty trip inside the Husker 20 yard-line on the stat sheet.
In the meantime, Nebraska found a way to scratch out 10 first-half points.
Freshman running back Devine Ozigbo rumbled 19 yards around the right side of Illinois’ defense with 12:35 left in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead.
Then, late in the quarter, Armstrong hit Cethan Carter for a 55-yard pass down the right sideline that set up a 39-yard Drew Brown field goal. With 11 seconds to play, Nebraska was up 10-0.
Follow David Mercer on Twitter: (at)davidmercerAP