Those Were The Days - Rutgers
Man, I totally forgot about this post today. Detlef already sent me the post - my only job is to post it on Friday. And it's 10:07, I'm just sitting down to write the SOC, and when I pull up the site I realize that I never posted the TWTD post. So now when you get up in the morning you'll have two posts to read.
Here's Detlef to take us back to... Western Michigan?
This week, Illinois travels to Rutgers, or as Lou Holtz described them, Ruptures. I've already written about the prior Illini victories over the State University of New Jersey. Therefore, this week I am going into the vault to see what I can find…..
September 18, 2004: The Ron Turner Farewell Tour (I threw out my t-shirt in 2007 when Illinois football was nationally relevant) had a concert in Champaign against the Broncos. Both teams entered at 1-1 and were desperate for a win. A beautiful sunny day with temperatures reaching 77 degrees greeted the crowd of 51,452 at Memorial Stadium. I attended the game with my parents. Meantime, the dreaded e-mail clan chose to attend the Cubs-Reds game in Cincinnati. As a White Sox fan, I laughed but promised to give updates to the clan.
On the opening kickoff, Pierre Thomas (still one of my all-time favorite Fighting Illini players) took it 99 yards to the house! The crowd went into pandemonium, an understandable feeling given the 1-11 debacle of the prior season. Alas, the Broncos responded with a methodical drive, capped by a one-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7 with 8:51 left in the first quarter. Illinois did not panic. It responded with a quick four-minute scoring drive of its own, capped by a three-yard touchdown run by E.B. Halsey that made the score 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Western Michigan scored two field goals to narrow the lead to a point. Illinois gained possession with just under five minutes left and quickly responded again, this time in just over a minute. Brad Bower, playing for the injured Jon Beutjer, connected with Kendrick Jones (SHONTEZZZZ!) on a 28-yard touchdown pass. However, Jason Reda missed the extra point so Illinois led 20-14 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the teams traded punts. Western Michigan gained momentum on a short touchdown pass to tie the game at 20. With six minutes left in the quarter, Bower again led a methodical march, capped by a Jason Reda field goal from 34 yards out. Illinois led 23-20 entering the fourth quarter.
I received a text message from a clan member stating "Can we play any worse?" The answer came quickly. Bower drove UI into the red zone but threw a pick and WMU got a long runback. WMU took advantage and with 6:56 remaining in the fourth quarter, Western Michigan drove for a short three-yard touchdown pass by Ryan Cubit (son of Bill Cubit, the WMU head coach. And yes, he was an assistant when Bill led our lads in 2015) to take a 27-23 lead. I buried my head in my hands, wondering how Illinois could fall so low so fast after the Big Ten title of 2001. My parents tried to console me. Losing at home to a MAC team would be the ultimate kick in the pants to Illini Nation.
Illinois took possession, went three and out and promptly punted. The situation looked dire. However, the Fighting Illini lived up to their moniker. The defense held and WMU punted to E.B. Halsey at the Illinois 20. Halsey returned the punt 40 yards, showing what fans had hoped from him when he committed to Illinois. Now Illinois started at the Broncos 40-yard line and had a lifeline. It took just four plays for Illinois to move the ball to the 19-yard line. With 1:30 left, Bower threw towards Ade Ademayo (6 catches for 93 yards) in the right corner of the end zone, near the WMU section. The pass fell incomplete but the officials flagged the Broncos for pass interference. The fans in that corner went irate! Meanwhile, the Illini decided to seal the game. E.B. Halsey scored from four yards out to give Illinois a 30-27 lead!
WMU got the ball after the kickoff but the defense held for the win. Bower was not sharp, going 10 for 19 passing for 177 yards and two interceptions, but he got the job done when the chips were down. "He battled the whole game," said Ron Turner. "It was his first (start) and when adversity hit, he was still positive." The defense struggled, allowing 406 yards but to its credit, it made the stop to give UI a chance to win. "We knew the game was in our hands, and we wanted to give the offense another chance." said Mike O'Brien. Special teams carried Illinois. Illinois had 179 return yards, including the opening kickoff return by Pierre Thomas (78 yards rushing) for a touchdown and E.B. Halsey's long punt return (91 yards rushing) to set up the win.