12:00 PM ET, November 23, 2002
Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) _ Jon Beutjer threw three touchdowns passes and ran for another score to lead Illinois to a 31-24 victory over Northwestern on Saturday. Antoineo Harris ran for 178 yards and broke Illinois' single-season rushing record on a 7-yard rush early in the second half. Harris surpassed the previous school record of 1,281 yards set by Illini career rushing leader Robert Holcombe. Michael Hall had two interceptions as Illinois (5-7, 4-4 Big Ten) forced five turnovers and limited Northwestern to just one field goal in four trips inside the Illini 5 yard line. Trailing 24-10 midway through the second half, Northwestern (3-9, 1-7) failed to convert on a fourth-and-1. Quarterback Brett Basanez faked a run to the right, then threw a lateral across the field to offensive lineman Trai Essex. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Essex caught the ball and stumbled forward a few steps before being tackled for a 3-yard loss. Illinois assumed possession on downs and marched 96 yards. Beutjer threw a 29-year scoring pass to Brandon Lloyd, who leaped over two defenders to make the catch and give Illinois a 31-10 lead. Lloyd finished with six receptions for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Northwestern failed to score on three others possessions inside the Illinois 5, turning the ball over twice and kicking a field goal on another possession. For the first time in three years, the season-ending matchup held little meaning. Illinois picked up another win. Northwestern dropped another decision, and both teams completed disappointing seasons. Illinois won the Big Ten championship last season with a win over the Wildcats. The previous season it was Northwestern that won a share of the conference title and earned a trip to the Alamo Bowl with a win over the Illini. Beutjer, a junior who transferred from Iowa last season, was 21-of-34 for 282 yards. He also gained 31 yards on the ground. Beutjer's day didn't start nearly as well as it finished. He was intercepted on the first play of the game. Raheem Covington stepped in front of Beutjer's short pass and returned it 17 yards. Northwestern squandered a chance to take an early lead two plays later when rarely used running back Kevin Lawrence fumbled at the 1 while trying to dive into the end zone. It was just the second fumble this season by a Northwestern running back. Lawrence was in the game because coach Randy Walker elected to start several of his seniors. On Illinois' next possession, Beutjer punctuated an 80-yard, 18-play drive with a 7-yard scoring run. Northwestern tied the game on its next possession on Basanez's 23-yard TD pass to Kunle Patrick, who had two catches for 39 yards on the drive. The Wildcats' second turnover, a fumble by Ashton Aikens, set up the Illini's second score -- a 25-yard pass from Beutjer to tight end Anthony McClellan. After a 35-yard field goal by Peter Christofilakos, Beutjer hit Lloyd on a 7-yard slant for a 24-7 halftime lead. Basanez finished 31-of-49 for 368 yards with three interceptions and one touchdown. Jon Schweighardt had nine catches for 118 yards, and Patrick had seven catches for 84 yards.