Northwestern 38, Illinois 21
Trickery does the trick for NU
Cats shake pesky Illinois with TD off fake field goal
Then Northwestern coach Randy Walker dipped into his bag of tricks, pulled out a fake field goal that turned into a touchdown and the Wildcats went on to a 38-21 victory.
"I'm overjoyed to have this kind of season because, frankly, we thought we had one stolen from us last year," Walker said.
The 7-4 Wildcats finished 5-3 in the Big Ten, tied for third with Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. The Wildcats are headed to a bowl a year after a season-ending loss at Hawaii left them 6-6 and ineligible.
Saturday the Wildcats set a school record with 36 first downs, and Brett Basanez set another mark by completing 80.6 percent (25 of 31) of his passes, including two for touchdowns.
Tyrell Sutton added to his freshman record with 212 yards rushing.
The result was a triumph over the Illini (2-9, 0-8) who matched them touchdown for touchdown in the first half.
Northwestern, which took a 24-21 lead on Joel Howells' 19-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the first half, took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove to the Illinois 28.
There they faced a fourth-and-5 into an 18-m.p.h. wind.
"It was fairly long; it wasn't a gimme [field goal]. I just thought the timing was right," Walker said of his ensuing trick play.
"We've been using it about every other year since '96. It's tough to defend if it's executed well. It's 8-for-8 now. It never has been stopped."
The snap went directly to fullback Chris Malleo, who slid the ball between the legs of running back Gerard Hamlett in front of him. Malleo ran to the left with tight end Frayne Abernathy appearing to run a reverse behind him, creating the illusion of an option play.
"Everyone ran with us," Malleo said. "It was picture perfect. We knew it would work no matter who we ran it against."
Hamlett delayed for a second so the defense would follow Malleo and Abernathy, then took off around the right side for 28-yard touchdown run that gave Northwestern a 31-21 lead.
"On the field everyone was calling 'fake, fake,' so I was thinking, 'I don't know if this is going to work,'" Hamlett said. "I got the ball and everyone was running the other way so it was off to the races."
Illinois was stunned.
"They came out with something we hadn't seen this year," Illinois linebacker J Leman said. "We probably should have called a timeout."
The Illini fought back, taking the kickoff and driving to the NU 9. On second-and-7, however, Tim Brasic tried to throw to his right and defensive end Barry Cofield intercepted, virtually ending Illinois' hopes.
"It was huge, probably the play of the game," Walker said.
"I was supposed to drop into pass coverage, but I read the tackles' blocks and the quarterback's eyes, and I could tell it was a quick screen," Cofield said. "And the rest is historyat least the history of my life."