CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Tim Brasic threw for 149 yards and Pierre
Thomas rushed for 126 yards on 15 carries as Illinois snapped a
nine-game losing streak with a 42-17 victory over Eastern Illinois
in the first-ever game between the schools.
Thomas and Rashard Mendenhall scored two touchdowns each as the
Illini had 519 yards of offense, rushing for six touchdowns and
more than 300 yards for the first time since a 63-21 win over
Virginia in the 1999 MicronPC.com Bowl. E.B. Halsey rushed for 82
yards, including a 39-yard TD run, and Brasic scored from 4 yards
Mendenhall rushed for 75 yards on 10 carries as Illinois (1-0),
opening its second season under Ron Zook, broke a losing skid that
stretched back to last season's third game.
Division I-AA Eastern Illinois (0-1) played the game without
head coach Bob Spoo, who had surgery earlier in the week and is
expected to miss four to six weeks. The Panthers scored on a
20-yard pass from Mike Donato to Micah Rucker and a 33-yard flanker
option pass from Justin Duhai to Ryan Voss, and Zach Yates added a
42-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Eastern's night took a nasty turn on the opening kickoff when
linebacker Clint Sellers, last season's defensive player of the
year in the Ohio Valley Conference, injured his right shoulder
tackling Halsey. Sellers lay motionless on the turf for several
minutes before he walked slowly off the field. He did not return.
Without Sellers in the game, Brasic found the middle of the
field to his liking, leading the Illini on scoring drives of 90,
83, 80 and 54 yards. His longest throw of the night was a 25-yard
completion to Derrick McPhearson in the third quarter.
The Illini got a glimpse of the future when freshman quarterback
Isiah "Juice" Williams entered the game to start the second
quarter and took the team on a 12-play, 61-yard TD march,
punctuated by his own 9-yard run and a 16-yard pass to Mendenhall,
whose 1-yard plunge gave Illinois a 21-7 lead.
However, Williams fumbled at his own 33 on the first play of
Illinois' next possession and Eastern scored two plays later on
Duhai's throw to Voss to close to 21-14 before Brasic came back and
led the final two scoring drives. Williams also played the fourth
quarter for Illinois.
Donato completed 8-of-14 passes for 134 yards for Eastern, which
went undefeated in the Ohio Valley Conference last season and
brought back 16 starters.