Illinois rolls over Northwestern, keeps bowl hopes alive
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Brandon Peters threw for 242 yards and a touchdown and Illinois rolled over Big Ten rival Northwestern 47-14 on Saturday.
With the resounding win to end the regular season, Illinois hopes to secure its second bowl bid in five years.
“It’s been fun to build this thing,” first-year Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “If we get a bowl bid, I would welcome the practices and being allowed one more game with these guys (seniors).”
Peters also threw an interception. Chase Brown rushed 14 times for 112 yards and a touchdown, Josh McCray carried 12 times for 42 yards and a score. Isaiah Williams and Daniel Barker also scored rushing touchdowns for the Illini. Williams also caught seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
Ryan Hilinski passed was 12 of 23 for 123 yards passing for Northwestern. Evan Hull rushed 32 times for 101 yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats. Malik Washington caught seven passes for 83 yards.
Illinois (5-7, 4-5 Big Ten) took control of the game early, scoring midway through the first quarter after Isaiah Gay recovered an Evan Hull fumble on the Illinois 8-yard line. Daniel Barker punched it in for a touchdown, followed two minutes later by another score on a 39-yard Peters pass to Williams to put Illinois up 14-0.
After Peters hit Casey Washington with a 56-yard pass, Chase Brown scampered one yard for the Illini’s third touchdown of the half. Williams then ran 21 yards for yet another Illinois touchdown.
Northwestern (3-9, 1-8) got on the board with 6:58 left in the first half on a one-yard Hilinski run capping an 11-play, 75-yard drive to make the score 28-7 Illinois.
Three James McCourt field goals gave the Illini a 37-7 lead at the half.
“Today was kind of a microcosm of the season,” said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. “On our end, opportunities lost. We turned the ball over early, gave up explosive plays, and had opportunities to get off the field. I’m disappointed, obviously.”
THEY SAID IT
Bielema: “I believe we are heading in the right direction. I’ve felt all along that we were on a steady path to this place. I liked our focus all week, and it showed.”
Fitzgerald: “I believe we’ll continue to keep growing and keep building. We went from probably my most veteran team to probably my youngest. Those are excuses. We’ve just got to get to work and get better. It all starts and ends with me. I’m the leader. I’m the guy who needs to get things in the right place. Obviously, I didn’t push the right buttons and get the right combinations this year, which is disappointing.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Illinois dominated the Wildcats from the beginning and scored more points (37) in the first half against Northwestern than it did in any one full game (30 against both Nebraska and UTSA) all season. The Illini now wait to see if they can manage a bowl invitation with five wins, not impossible given the strong end to the Illini season.
Northwestern looked lost throughout the game and will have to wait a year for a chance to win back the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which the winner of this longstanding rivalry game keeps.
Northwestern: Season over.
Illinois: Hoping for a bowl invitation.
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