Those Were The Days - Rutgers

Oct 28, 2021

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I swear I just told this story here recently. But here goes. For the game Detlef is writing about below (2005 Rutgers), I was driving to a Labor Day weekend camping trip with our boys and listening on the radio. I heard the entire comeback but then it began to fade in and out as we got further away from St. Louis. I believe I heard the Halsey TD and then it went out of range.

Actually, I shouldn't continue that story. I'll spoil the ending. Here's Detlef:

Illinois hosts Rutgers this week, or as Lou Holtz once called them, "Ruptures." I dragged Mrs. Detlef to Rutgers in 2006 for that embarrassing defeat. That would be a perfect story if this column was called "Those Were NOT The Days. " However, I am here to spread optimism, so let's revisit a big win over Rutgers that started the Ron Zook era!!!!

September 3, 2005: Illinois hosted Rutgers in Zook's first game in charge. Zook inherited a program which had lost 19 of its last 23 games. Oddly, Coach Guenther scheduled Rutgers as an opponent back when Coach Death Penalty (a/k/a Lou Tepper) was still the head coach at Illinois. Coach Death Penalty graduated from Rutgers. I had just proposed to Mrs. Detlef (To quote Hawk Harrelson, "YES!") and we drove from Joliet to the game. She met some of my tailgate crew for the first time. One friend told her "when the priest says for better or worse, the worse part is Detlef's obsession with bad Illinois football." After several beers and burgers in good ol' Blue Lot, it was time to beat the Scarlet Knights!

Rutgers easily moved the ball on its first possession but missed a short field goal. Illinois lost 12 yards on its first drive with Tim Brasic sacked twice! UGH! Rutgers took advantage of a short punt and moved the ball to the Illinois three but the Illini defense held out for a field goal. After finally getting a good drive, Brasic threw an interception that Rutgers returned all the way to the Illinois 34 yard-line. Again the Illinois defense bent but did not break as Rutgers missed another field goal. Finally, Illinois showed competence on offense. Brasic led the boys on a 74-yard touchdown drive. This included two big catches by DaJuan Warren and a six-yard touchdown catch by Jody Ellis. The first quarter ended with an Illinois lead of 7-3.

Unsurprisingly, Rutgers needed just 1:13 to go 80 yards for a touchdown, capped by a 55-yard bomb. Illinois punted again and Rutgers again scored. This time, Rutgers drove to the Illinois 15-yard line. Again, the defense held Rutgers to a field goal for a 13-7 lead. The teams traded punts until disaster struck. Brasic tried to scramble from his own nine-yard line. After a nice run, he fumbled and Rutgers recovered at the Illinois 19 yard-line. Brian Leonard caught a touchdown pass on the first play. Rutgers now enjoyed a 20-7 lead at halftime.

Ever the sunshine spreader, Zook told the team at halftime "We got 'em right where we want them!" Most of the team couldn't believe this, beaten down by years of bad football under Ron Turner. "Do we really?" thought J Leman. Zook pondered pulling Brasic who was struggling. "We decided it would really have to be bad for us to pull him." Zook didn't and Brasic rewarded his coach's confidence.

It didn't start out so well. Illinois got a first down and then punted to the Rutgers 11 yard-line. Brian Leonard, the great Rutgers running back, caught a short pass and rambled 83 yards for a touchdown, hurdling Charles Bailey in the process. Rutgers led 27-7 and all seemed lost. Fans began thinking about basketball season. One man bel I eved Illinois would win: Ron Zook. "Coach Zook was running up and down the sidelines saying 'Believe!" said E.B. Halsey.

This Illinois team listened to its coach. Illinois received the kickoff and eventually drove to the Rutgers 10-yard line, settling for a field goal. After the teams exchanged punts, Rutgers attempted a field goal but again missed it. Illinois trailed 27-10 entering the fourth quarter.

The missed field goal gave Illinois some momentum. Brasic led Illinois to the Rutgers 11-yard line, and Jason Reda kicked another field goal for a 27-13 deficit. The Illinois defense forced a quick three-and-out. E.B. Halsey had a nice punt return to the Illinois 46 yard-line. Brasic threw to Kendrick "SHONTEZ" Jones for 23 yards to the Rutgers 31. Hasley ran for 10 more and Rutgers got called for pass interference. Brasic threw to Jones for a six-yard touchdown pass and Illinois now trailed 27-20 with 8:40 remaining. Could Illinois pull this out?

Taking over at its own 20, Rutgers went on a methodical drive that ate nearly five minutes of clock. On second down at the UI 32-yard line, Leonard seemingly rushed for a first down but Rutgers was penalized for a crackback block. This huge penalty moved them backwards and Rutgers eventually tried another field goal of 43 yards. Chris Norwell blocked it! Illinois now had momentum and time to try to force overtime.

With 3:54 left at its own 35 yard-line, Illinois ran successfully. Pierre Thomas for six, Brasic for six, Halsey for 15. Now at the Rutgers 38, Brasic threw to Thomas for 11. After a short pass to Franklin Payne and an incompletion, it was third down at the Rutgers 23 yard-line. Halsey caught a pass for three yards. Fourth down at the Rutgers 20, three yards needed to keep the drive alive. Brasic found Ellis for seven yards and a massive first down!

Now with 1:13 left, Brasic hit E.B. Halsey with a swing pass that he took 13 yards to the house, diving into the end zone! Tie game at 27-27! Illinois kicked off and Rutgers went three-and-out, and punted to Illinois. Halsey fair-caught the punt at the Illinois 39. Could Illinois win the game in regulation? With 18 seconds left, Illinois faced a third down at its own 43. Brasic connected with Kendrick "SHONTEZ" Jones for a first down at the Rutgers 49. Then Brasic threw to E.B. Halsey at the Rutgers 35! So Jason Reda had a chance for a 52-yard field goal to win the game but he missed. This game would be decided in overtime!

In overtime, Rutgers got flagged for holding, moving them backwards. On third down and eight from the Illinois three, Rutgers threw incomplete and converted a field goal. Now, Illinois had the chance to win the game. Brasic scrambled from the Rutgers 25 for eight yards. Alas, Illinois then got flagged for a false start. On second down and 12 from the Rutgers 22, Brasic found Halsey open on the left side. Halsey cut back across the field and rambled down to the Rutgers two-yard line! Rutgers called a time out to prepare for a goal-line stand. It didn't matter. Pierre Thomas (one of my all-time favorite Illini) dove from the two-yard line for a touchdown and an incredible, improbable Fighting Illini comeback victory! The team stormed the field and ran to the student section to celebrate! Ron Zook, the eternal optimist, walked towards the student section holding his arms in victory!

Brasic performed admirably in the comeback, finishing 24 of 34 passing for 233 yards and three touchdowns. Brasic also had 77 rushing yards. The defense bent, giving up 504 yards of total offense but held Rutgers to four critical field goal tries, all misses. My guy Kendrick "SHONTEZ" Jones had five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. After the game I met his family. His brother presented me with a SHONTEZ t-shirt that I wore proudly that season! Zook bel I eved Illinois would win. "I didn't even know we were down by 20 points."

We enjoyed the drive back up north, wondering if Zook's enthusiasm could turn things around? They did not in 2005.

Sources: "Not Bad For Starters" by Mike Downey. Chicago Tribune: September 4, 2005.


Illinimac68 on October 29, 2021 @ 11:52 AM

At the time I believe that game tied for the biggest comeback in Illini history along with the 20 point comeback at Michigan in the Rocky Harvey game.

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