Illini Take Back the Hat on Senior Day

Orignally published on 2021-11-28 00:10:53 by

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Fighting Illini football team put up a dominant performance against Northwestern on Saturday evening, securing a 47-14 Senior Day victory. Illinois’ win brings the Land of Lincoln Trophy back to Champaign after a six-year drought.

Illinois had its best outing of 2021, totaling 466 yards of offense and four touchdowns. The Illini finish Bret Bielema‘s first regular season at 5-7 with four Big Ten Conference wins.

Senior Day Success

Not only did the Illini secure the win on Senior Day, but several seniors were also major contributors.

Brandon Peters commanded the offense on Saturday, going 14-24 for 242 yards. He had the longest completion of the season for Illinois, with a 56-yard pass to Casey Washington. Peters also connected with Isaiah Williams for a 39-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The four seniors on the starting offensive line — Vederian Lowe, Alex Palczewski, Doug Kramer and Jack Badovinac — helped the Illini record 217 rushing yards.

On the defensive end, seniors Tony Adams, Owen Carney Jr. and Isaiah Gay all stepped up in the win. Adams filled his stat line, finishing the game with eight tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry. Gay and Carney each added a quarterback hurry and nine combined tackles. Gay also had a pass breakup and recovered a fumble.

Blake Hayes and James McCourt each showed out on their final games at Memorial Stadium. Hayes tallied three punts inside the 20-yard line, breaking his own program record for most punts inside the 20 in a single season, now holding it at 34. McCourt had a (perfect) day for the Illini, making all four field goal attempts. He had kicks from 28, 37, 25 and 49 yards out on Saturday.

Defense Keeps Dominating

The Illini defense held the Wildcats scoreless in both the first and third quarters, allowing just a touchdown in the second and fourth quarters. Throughout the entire game, Northwestern only had two red zone attempts.

Tarique Barnes was instrumental for the defense as he led the team with eight total tackles, five of those solo tackles. Barnes brought the pressure early, recording two TFLs, one sack, one pass breakup and a forced fumble in the first half alone.

Illinois also won the turnover battle on Saturday as Jartavius Martin grabbed his first interception of the season, which led to an offensive touchdown.

Receivers Step Up

Peters and the Illini passing attack were hot from the start again the Wildcats. Williams and Peters set the tone early with a 25-yard connection on the first play of the game. Williams finished with a career-high 113 receiving yards after recording 101 yards against UTSA. Along with his receiving touchdown, Williams also rushed for a touchdown, marking the fourth-straight game he has found the end zone.  

Daniel Barker had a solid outing as he caught three passes for 35 yards. He also scored the first touchdown of the game, with an 8-yard rush to the endzone.

Chase Brown Reaches Milestone

Coming into the game, Chase Brown needed 107 rushing yards to reach 1,000 yards on the season. It took less than three quarters to secure the achievement, as 29-yard rush late in the third set Brown over 1,000 rushing yards in 2021.

Brown finished the game with 112 yards on the ground, marking the fourth 100+-yard game for him this season. He also scored a touchdown against the Wildcats, marking his fifth rushing touchdown this season.


Team Notes

  • The Fighting Illini improve to 5-7 (4-5 B1G) following Saturday’s win against Northwestern (3-9, 1-8 B1G).
  • Illinois moves to 56-54-5 all-time against Northwestern. 
  • Illinois snapped a six-game losing streak to Northwestern with its first win over the Wildcats since a 47-33. 
  • Bret Bielema is now 3-1 all-time as a head coach against Northwestern. He is the first Illinois head coach to win his first Illini game against Northwestern since John Mackovic in 1988.
  • Illinois allowed 21.9 points per game during the regular season, a 13.0 points per game improvement from last season (2020: 34.9 ppg, 2021: 21.9 ppg).
  • Illinois allowed 18.9 points per game during Big Ten play, a 16.0 points per game improvement from last season (2020: 34.9 ppg, 2021: 18.9 ppg).
  • Illinois’ total defense has improved by 101.0 yards per game since last season (2020: 467.3 ypg, 2021: 366.3 ypg).
  • The Illini’s 459 total offensive yards against Northwestern is the Illini’s most yards against Northwestern since totaling 473 yards in a 38-35 win in Champaign on October 1, 2011.
  • The Illini’s 33-point margin of victory is the biggest margin by the Illini against Northwestern since a 49-point Illinois win (63-14) in Evanston on November 25, 1989.
  • The Illini’s 47 points scored against Northwestern is the most points scored by the Illini against the Wildcats since a 47-33 win in Evanston on November 29, 2014.  
  • The Illinois defense held Northwestern to just 14 points, the fewest points allowed by Illinois against Northwestern since holding the Wildcats to seven points in a 29-7 win on Dad’s Day in Champaign on November 20, 1999.
  • Illinois’ 37 first half points against the Wildcats is the most first half points in Big Ten play since 2000. The previous high was 35 points against Indiana in 2002.  
  • Illinois out-gained Northwestern in the contest, racking up a 459-241 advantage in total offense, including a 242-123 edge in passing yards and a 217-118 in rushing yards.
  • Illinois captains: DB Tony Adams, OLB Owen Carney Jr., LB Jake Hansen, P Blake Hayes, OL Doug Kramer, OL Vederian Lowe.   

Individual Notes

  • Vederian Lowe and Alex Palczewski both started their 52nd game, extending their Illinois record for career starts.
  • Doug Kramer started his 48th game, tying for third on Illinois’ all-time career starts list.
  • Illinois honored 27 seniors for Senior Day: Tony Adams, Jack Badovinac, Daniel Barker, Christian Bobak, Owen Carney Jr., Sean Coghlan, Desmond Dan, Mike Epstein, Isaiah Gay, Jake Hansen, Blake Hayes, Prather Hudson, Blake Jeresaty, Jaden Jones-Watkins, Doug Kramer, Vederian Lowe, Mike Marchese, James McCourt, Alec McEachern, Alex Palczewski, Roderick Perry II, Brandon Peters, Max Rosenthal, Kendall Smith, Ethan Tabel, Dylan Thomas, and Jamal Woods.
  • Chase Brown finished with 112 rushing yards against Northwestern and has 1,005 in 2021 to become the 14th Illini in program history to reach 1,000 rushing yards in a single season. Brown has 1,566 rushing yards for his career at Illinois, ranking No. 25 on Illinois’ all-time career rushing list.
  • Senior P Blake Hayes set the Illinois single-season record with 34 punts inside the 20, besting his previous school record of 32 in 2019.
  • Redshirt-freshman WR Isaiah Williams registered his second-career 100-yard reception game as he led the Illini with seven catches for a career-high 113 yards. Williams previously went over the century mark with 101 yards on eight catches against UTSA earlier this season.
  • Williams registered his fourth-straight game with a touchdown after a 39-yard catch from senior QB Brandon Peters at 6:08 in the first quarter.   
  • Sophomore WR Casey Washington added two receptions for a career-high 68 receiving yards.
  • Senior QB Brandon Peters went 14-for-24 for 242 yards and one touchdown.  
  • Peters’ 56-yard completion to Casey Washington in the second quarter is Illinois’ longest of the season.
  • Junior DB Jartavius Martin tallied his first interception of the season at the 11:30 mark of the second quarter. It was his fourth career interception.
  • Senior K James McCourt converted a career-high four field goals with distances of 37, 28, 25 and 49 yards. His four field goals ties for fifth-most in program history for a single game.  
  • Senior DB Tony Adams, sophomore LB Tarique Barnes and redshirt-freshman Keith Randolph Jr., led the Illini defense with eight total tackles, including five solo tackles and one sack each. Barnes and Randolph each registered two tackles for loss.  
  • Freshman RB Josh McCray totaled 549 rushing yards during the 2021 regular season, ranking him fourth all-time for most rushing yards by an Illini true freshman since 2000. Nathan Scheelhaase (2010) owns the all-time record with 868 yards, followed by 723 yards from Ke’Shawn Vaughn (2015) and 576 by Juice Williams (2006).

Bielema Press Conference


Head coach Bret Bielema

“To be out of the building for 10 days and to get back to practice on Thursday, I was just so excited to get back out there. When I came on the practice field, the team really snapped in on offense, defense, special teams, and it was a really clean practice. I had been able to watch it through Zoom, but to see it, feel it, and hear it was great.

I was worried that the guys were away from classes with a million things going on. A lot of guys went home for a thanksgiving dinner, and we had a celebration with a large majority of our team. But the focus that they had and the ability to open the game up the way they did, I stressed to them that senior day is a great thing to have but once the celebration is over you have to turn the page and get our minds right.

The way we started on offense, defense, and special teams, I thought we would play well this game and it was fun to watch it executed. Give a lot of credit to Pat Fitzgerald and his crew, they were Big Ten West champions a year ago. We talked about this game from the moment I was hired and the conversations I had over the course of the year to play a trophy game and to keep it, make it be housed in our building, and we built a trophy area in our locker room to house those trophy games and to have one for the whole year is awesome until we try to defend it again next year.

The seniors, I can’t say enough about their perseverance and their faith in us as coaches to come back with us, and especially when things maybe weren’t going as well as everybody hoped, they kept the faith and have been tremendous. I have always let senior captains talk at the end of the year so we had three guys talk last weekend vs. Iowa and three guys talk last night (Vederian Lowe, Jake Hansen, Doug Kramer) and to hear their words and what they say about us as coaches and their teammates makes me confirm more than ever before that we are heading in the right direction.

I’d love the chance to play one more game with these guys, if that works out that would be great, but just to see the way they’re playing and there’s a definite vibe with the way they’re playing and playing their best football at the end here.

To start the year with a win against Nebraska and to end the year with a win against Northwestern, would’ve loved to have a few more in between there, but to feel out where we are in the Big Ten West and a vision of what we can be is a very exciting time.”

On balanced offense…

“I do think we were able to distribute the ball around, especially in the first half, and having deep shot plays that were completed, it’s one thing to take them but it’s another to complete them. I thought the Daniel Barker run, to have a tight end that can do those types of things is a very special part of our offense. I think our guys knew the plan and executed it.”

On what it means to beat Northwestern

“It’s about respect, they won six in a row and won the Big Ten West last season. They are one year removed from being at the top of their division, and for us to play the way we did today means a lot for us. Not only today, but in recruiting, it’s a statement for where we want to be in this division. I doubt there would be anyone who really want to play us right now, and that’s not just me saying that I believe and feel that.”

Brandon Peters

On Putting it all together…

“Knowing it’s the last one, I feel like the underclassmen took it into themselves to have a good one for the seniors. I couldn’t be prouder of the way we played today… I’m going to miss this place, you know, I’m just glad to go out on the right foot, but it was awesome.”

On getting his hands on the hat trophy…

“It was awesome, it means more for the guys who have been here, especially the super seniors who have been here for six years and have never gotten the W. It’s just awesome to see the joy on those guys faces, they really deserve it and hopefully we can build on that and keep it here for a while.”

On his journey…

“It’s been a journey, that’s for sure. It’s hard to put it into words but just to go out on the right foot makes the bad stuff feel a lot less worse. I’m thankful for those moments, they’ve really built me into the person I am today.”

On playing their best football at the end of the year…

“The guys just bought into what the coaches were preaching. Each week I feel like we got better as an offense, as a team. We’ve been playing football the right way. I’m just really happy for these guys and I’m going to miss them a lot”

Tarique Barnes

On carrying the rivalry trophy for the first time…

“I’ve been here for three (years) … that was my first time getting to touch it. Having the trophy game, winning it, being able to hold it feels good. Seven years is a long time; that’s another part of that, and being able to hold that and bring it back home, it’s a great feeling.”

On the significance of winning the trophy for the first time for the senior class…

“This being the end of our regular season, and for this being their first time, it was a great feeling to be able to send them out in that manner; something they’ve never touched, never seen before. That’s a great feeling for this team.”

On the feeling of having a dominant performance in what could be the final game for the seniors…

“We sent them out the right way. Having them around here helped us build the foundation for a lot of things. Just being able to send them out the right way, and making sure that they leave here happy with the results of everything.”

On what it means to the defense to have the offense put up a big offensive first half…

“Complimentary football. It goes without saying. We feed off of them, and they feed off of us. And we put together a great game.”

On any special moments on the field after the game that will stick with him…

“Having the whole team out there with their families, taking pictures actually holding the trophy and cherishing those moments, because dependent on what’s to come, this might be the last time that this specific group of people – this team – is together. So, it was definitely a great feeling and you cherish those moments.”

Owen Carney Jr.

On bringing the hat to Jake Hansen first…

 “Me and Jake were talking before the game, it just killed me that he couldn’t play. I know he really wanted to be out there, because he’s a three-time captain, been here six years. So I know bringing that to him was one of those moral victories for him. It meant everything to give him that hat and see him smiling.”

On the Epstein/Hansen victory formation…

“It was crazy coach actually told them this morning when we get the dub, he spoke it into existence that he was going to put them in the victory formation and I’m happy they got to go out there one last time, suited up and all.”

On playing the best football this season…

“We play to them week in and week out. One thing about this team is that we never give up, never quit. Even when our backs were on the wall last week we still came out swinging.”

Doug Kramer

“It’s bittersweet. I love this team, I love this place so much. It was a great game, great team game. Defense played lights out, offense played well, special teams well so it’s a good way to end this if it’s the end.”

On holding the Hat…

“I love that trophy. I’ve watched that game so many times. I’ve dreamt of holding it, putting it on my head. Six years of grinding to get to this point and I’m just happy we got there.”

On the victory formation…

“It’s the best play in sports. And we had Hansen and Epstein out there, who obviously both had season-ending injuries. Just to have the guys out there for that was awesome. Just the best play in sports, man, victory.”

On playing for the new staff…

“First, coach Miller has been unbelievable. He was one of the few coaches in recruiting that believed in me and gave me a chance and I committed to him. So for him to be here, it came full circle. I love that man, I would run through a brick wall for him. He’s an unbelievable offensive line coach. And then coach B, there’s really not enough good things I could say about him. He changed the way I look at football and taught me so much about life this year. I’ve never learned that much about it. I’m really appreciative of both of them and this staff for giving me the chance to come back and be a part of this team.”

Tony Adams

“Me, OC, and Isaiah talk about all the time, this is what we came back for. Games like this, trophy games and taking that trophy back home, this is what we cam back for. Just to see it all come tru tonight, it was beautiful.”

On grabbing the trophy…

“I had been at the lowest of the low when I got here. Just to be named the captain and Mark telling me to run over there and grab the trophy, racing OC for it, just knowing where we started and be the first ones to touch that trophy, hadn’t won it in six years, it’s an amazing feeling.”

On his growth as an Illini…

“I’m a lot stronger man. I still have ways to go as a player, but I’m a lot stronger man. When adversity comes, it might shake me a little bit, but I won’t let it throw me all the way off course. And last thing, I just wanted to shotout my big bro, David Jackson, I love him.”

Chase Brown

On the trophy…

“It was on our mind all week and it was a sweet moment to capitalize on the win today. And being able to hold that trophy up after the game is surreal. We dreamt it and then we made it happen on the field.”

On what the win means for next year…

“I think it puts us in a good position, we finished the season 5-7. It makes us hungrier for what’s coming up next year and all the offseason workouts. But we’ll kinda just let God take care of what’s gonna happens next year. But it’s been a hell of a season, I wouldn’t want it to go any other way. It’s a season where we could’ve been 8-4, but it’s just the way it was. We’re gonna learn from it and come back better next year.”

On his mother surprising him and Sydney…

“I didn’t even know she was going to be here. Coach B always pulls little pranks on us and that was just one of them. He told us to stay on the right side because there’s a kid that wants us to sign a football for him and then it was my mom. Some tears were shed and I’m just happy that she could make it out today.”

On reaching 1,000 rushing yards…

“That hasn’t even sunk in yet. It means the world to me. It’s not only a result of my hard work and dedication, but it was a team goal this week. Everybody was saying, 107, 107, because that was all I needed. I just feel blessed I was able to come up with that and I’m just happy.”

Orignally published on 2021-11-28 00:10:53 by

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