EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Brett Basanez connected with Jonathan
Fields on a 7-yard scoring pass in overtime to give Northwestern a
28-21 victory Saturday, sending Illinois coach Ron Turner away with
a loss in what might have been his last game.
It was the fourth overtime game this year for the Wildcats, an
NCAA Division I-A record. Northwestern (6-5, 5-3 Big Ten) also beat
Ohio State and Indiana in overtime, and lost to TCU.
The victory kept Northwestern's bowl hopes alive. The Wildcats
have to win at Hawaii next weekend to be bowl eligible.
The loss spoiled a fine game by Pierre Thomas, who rushed for
131 yards and two scores for Illinois. It was his third 100-yard
game of the season. Backup quarterback Chris Pazan was 20-of-33 for
Basanez was 18-of-31 for 184 yards. Noah Herron rushed for 97
yards and two scores.
Illinois (3-8, 1-7) has gone 9-26 since going to the Sugar Bowl
three years ago, fueling speculation Turner will be fired. Turner
said Monday he expects to be back.
The Illini wanted to win their final game in hopes it would
convince athletic director Ron Guenther to keep Turner, who has two
years left on his contract. And it looked as if they might just
pull it off, scoring a go-ahead touchdown on a fake field goal
attempt early in the fourth quarter.
But Jeff Backes returned a punt 73 yards for a score to tie the
game, and Jason Reda's 31-yard field goal attempt for Illinois in
the final seconds of regulation sailed wide left.
Northwestern got the ball first in overtime and wasted little
time moving down the field. Basanez found Kim Thompson for a 6-yard
gain, then connected with Fields for the 7-yard score.
The Northwestern defense was all over Pazan in overtime,
hurrying him and forcing him to make bad throws. They were in his
receivers' faces, too. After Mark Kornfeld caught a 4-yard pass to
give Illinois fourth-and-6 at the 11, Pazan looked for Kendrick
Jones in the end zone on fourth down.
But Marvin Ward smothered him, and Jones never got a hand on the
ball. As officials signaled that the game was over, Ward's
teammates piled on top of him. Senior defensive tackle Luis
Castillo went into the stands to celebrate with fans, and several
teammates joined him.
Northwestern finished with a perfect Big Ten home record for the
first time since 1996. It also was the Wildcats' second straight
victory in the intrastate rivalry.
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