Saturday, December 5, 2009
Illinois loses an absolute heartbreaker
By Adam Rittenberg
I feel sick for Juice Williams. And Arrelious Benn. And Ron Zook.
If there's a more heartbreaking way to lose a football game, please feel free to let me know. Illinois seemingly had a shootout victory in hand, up 52-45 in the closing seconds. But Fresno State reached the end zone on an incredible stretch by wide receiver Jamel Hamler on a 19-yard reception.
Hamler's touchdown set up The Craziest Play of the 2009 Season.
Fresno State head coach Pat Hill went for the 2-point conversion and the win, which didn't surprise me one bit. Illinois got the penetration it wanted and had quarterback Ryan Colburn in its grasp, forcing a desperation throw to Hamler. Illinois couldn't knock down the pass, and it caromed to Devan Cunningham, a 6-6, 350-pound offensive tackle, who rumbled into the end zone to put Fresno State up 53-52.
A replay review upheld the call, though it looked like the ball hit Hamler first, which would have prevented a teammate from advancing it. What a tough blow for Illinois.
The Illini offense really showed up today, especially sophomore running back Mikel Leshoure, who rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 carries. Williams passed for 211 yards and three scores, though he also had two interceptions. Still, Juice deserved to win this game.
Illinois' defense didn't show up when it mattered, and it likely will lead to changes on the staff. Williams is gone, and Benn could join him.
You can't fault the effort from the Illini today. But the results are still ugly: 3-9.