Scheelhaase, Illini survive SIU rally, win 42-34
Nathan Scheelhaase had waited a long time for a day like
Career-high 416 yards through the air. Two early touchdown
passes that staked an Illinois team in bad need of an early win to
a comfortable lead.
But the ending was closer to a hot, muggy nightmare than any
With the temperature hitting 95 degrees and the heat index 108,
Scheelhaase watched helplessly from the sideline in the final
minute Saturday as Southern Illinois fell just short of the kind of
upset Football Championship Subdivision teams like the Salukis
dream of, with Illinois holding on 42-34.
”It’s gonna be a fight every time,” the fifth-year senior
quarterback said before refusing to attach much if any significance
to his own big day. ”Honestly, I think we’ll all put it behind us
and start preparing for Cincinnati.” Illinois hosts the Bearcats
Illinois coach Tim Beckman enters the season under pressure
after a 2-10 finish his first year in Champaign. He said after the
game that he’ll take the win but wasn’t happy that his Illini let
the Salukis claw their way back into the game.
”It’s unacceptable and these things have to get corrected,”
Beckman said. ”We have to make sure these get corrected.”
Southern Illinois was left to think about what could have
Illinois had the Salukis down 25-7 at halftime and 39-17 late in
the third quarter before letting them come back.
Down 42-43, Southern Illinois quarterback Kory Faulkner drove
the Salukis down the field for a final shot. With 44 seconds to
play and fourth down at the Illini 3-yard line, Faulkner threw too
high for leaping wideout Adam Fuehne.
”Obviously we didn’t complete it so I wish I had it back,”
Faulkner said. ”But we work on that play a lot in practice and
Fuehne is a great target and maybe four inches to the right and a
little bit lower he could have times it better.”
That let Illinois, finally, run the clock out.
The Illini offense was mostly Scheelhaase. He was 28 for 36 with
one interception, and his second-quarter touchdown passes to Jon
Davis and Josh Ferguson built that halftime lead.
Ryan Lankford caught six passes for 115 yards and Ferguson had
four for another 103 yards.
Scheelhaase has taken his knocks since throwing for what was
then a career-best 391 yards and three touchdowns in November 2011
in a storybook win over Northwestern at Wrigley Field.
Since then, he’s seen head coach Ron Zook fired, played for
three offensive coordinators and suffered through a season of
injury trouble in 2012 as his team went winless in the Big Ten.
Beckman gave him much of the credit for the win.
”You don’t understand how much the quarterbacks are involved in
making things right,” Beckman said. ”Nathan did a great job of
putting our team where the team needed to be.”
Beyond Scheelhaase and the Illinois passing attack, there had to
be cause for concern among the Illini.
The Salukis, a six-win FCS team in 2012, struck easily against a
young Illinois secondary. Faulkner was 25 for 40 for 312 yards and
three touchdowns, and was never sacked or, as the hot afternoon
wore on, heavily pressured.
”We gave up some big plays and turned the football over,”
Beckman said, referring to a fumble by backup quarterback Reilly
O’Toole that set up the Salukis’ final touchdown.
The Illini offensive line had a rough afternoon, too. Illinois
had just 49 rushing yards on 30 carries against a small Southern
Illinois defense, and the Salukis had five sacks.
After falling behind 7-3 and sending a wave of anxiety through
the crowd of 42,000, Scheelhaase’ first touchdown gave the Illini
the lead. He tossed a short pass to Ferguson, who weaved past a
Saluki defender to the right sideline for a 53-yard score and a
10-7 lead with 9:31 left in the first half.
The Salukis barely had time to get their offense back on the
field before Illini tackle Tim Kynard hammered running back Mika’il
McCall as he came through the line, jarring the ball loose for
Illinois’ Houston Bates to dive on.
With 9:02 left in the half, Donovonn Young plunged into the end
zone from two yards out for a 17-7 lead.
Then, after Southern Illinois elected to punt rather than go for
it on a fourth-and-1 at the Illinois 43, the Illini too the ball at
their own six with 1:32 left in the half and drove deep into SIU
territory. From the Saluki 11, Scheelhaase hit Davis on the right
sideline. Davis stumbled to the end zone, diving to push the ball
in, for a 25-7 lead.
Illinois built that lead to 39-17 with just over five minutes to
play in the third quarter on a 100-yard kickoff return by V’Angelo
Bentley. He tied a school record for longest kickoff return.
Tight end MyCole Pruitt finished with five catches for 83 yards
and one touchdown for SIU. Wide receiver John Lantz caught four
balls for 99 yards and one touchdown.
The heat sent one official, linesman Bob Davis, to a local
hospital for treatment of heat exhaustion. A Big Ten spokesman said
he was alert after the game and talking with doctors. Beckman said
linebacker Jonathan Brown and Ferguson needed IVs at halftime,
While Cincinnati – a 42-7 winner over Purdue on Saturday –
travels to Illinois next Saturday, the Salukis will face Eastern
Illinois at home.
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