It was a week where one school’s marketing slogan became a motivational rallying cry for the other school in the state. Northwestern has been promoting themselves as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” for a season and half, and today Illinois made stated pretty loudly how they felt about it.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase scored a 1-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left to lead #22 Illinois to a 38-35 comeback win over NU. He threw for a career-high 391 yards and three touchdowns (one interception) for the Illini (5-0 for the first time since 1951). All three TD passes went to A.J. Jenkins, who had 12 catches for a school-record 268 yards. The previous school receiving yards record was also set versus Northwestern in 1984. (David Williams 204).
Scheelhaase had to engineer two comebacks in order to pull out the dramatic, emotional win in the conference opener for both teams. The victory means the Illini retain the Land of Lincoln trophy for another year, but I could tell from my final vantage point (on the field by the north end zone, where the final score occurred, standing next to new University of Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas) how much taking this rivalry contest means.
In order to poke more fun at the “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” mantra, the Memorial Stadium audio played “Sweet Home Chicago” followed by Frank Sinatra’s “Chicago, Chicago” at the conclusion of the game. The scoreboard read “the state of Illinois’ undefeated team.”
“I’ll be honest with you, it came up during the week. Especially after last year, with what went on with that game and it being in Chicago,” Scheelhaase said.
“I’ve been to Chicago a few times and I haven’t seen any of them, but Miles told me he passes ’em all the time, so maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.
But for them saying they’re Chicago’s team, we definitely walked in with a chip on our shoulder, we feel like we’re a pretty established team in the state, I don’t know what all of this is all about, I just know we wanted to establish ourselves as the state champion this year. We can’t control what happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future, but for this year we’re the champs of the state of Illinois- for all cities,” he continued.
This was Scheelhaase’s first 300 yard passing day, and he almost went for 400.
“I think I had 295 in high school. What did I have against Arkansas State? Mid-200s, so that’s a first and that’s pretty fun,” Nate said.
And it was a breakout day for Jenkins, the Big Ten’s leading receiver.
“he had a great week of practice, we felt like in practice this week we threw the ball well, he made a lot of plays for us, we’re excited to see him go out there, and go down the field, short stuff, make plays each time he gets the chance. And he did a great job today. He was consistent. It was fun to see your receivers do that as a quarterback,” Scheelhaase said.
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