The difference between winning and losing can be as little as 1 yard.
On Saturday afternoon, those final 3 feet proved to be the difference between a field goal and touchdown for the Illinois Fighting Illini.
And while Illinois ran 51 more plays in the Big Ten contest against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, that one missed opportunity set the tone for 12th straight conference loss for the Fighting Illini.
Minnesota’s Donnell Kirkwood ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Golden Gophers to bowl eligibility with a 17-3 win over the Fighting Illini.
“When you are scoring just 3 points, that’s not going to cut it in any league,” said Illinois coach Tim Beckman. “I haven’t been around losing. It’s been tough. You have to find ways to motivate.”
Getting a touchdown on the game’s opening drive would have been the perfect motivation for Illinois, which fell to 2-8 overall with its seventh straight loss and the Fighting Illini are 0-6 in the league play.
“They all hurt,” Beckman said. “No one wants to freaking lose.”
And the ultimate frustration for Beckman came on that opening drive. The Illini started from its own 9-yard line and after a 16-yard run by Josh Ferguson on first down, they went for a trick play. A flea flicker pass from Nathan Scheelhaase to Spencer Harris covered 49 yards, setting up Illinois on the Minnesota 26.
“From watching film, we knew that was a play we could run against them,” Illinois senior wide receiver Ryan Lankford said. “After we got that first down, we knew we were going to run it.”
Scheelhaase admitted that he nearly underthrew Harris on that play, and on the next one, he threw a pass over a wide-open Jon Davis. It appeared that Davis could have walked into the end zone if the pass was on the mark.
“Early in that game, we had a couple opportunities to take big strikes, to take those big hits,” Beckman said. “We overthrow a wide-open receiver that is square in the middle of the football field. We overthrow him and we don’t get the points out of that.
“Things like that, you have to make those plays to be successful. Our players are not making those plays.”
Even after that miscue, the Illini were still able to get the ball down to the Gophers’ 1-yard line. But rushing attempts by Donovonn Young, who had a team-high 42 yards, and Scheelhaase resulted in a loss of 1 yard.
“We’ve got to come off the football and bloody some mouths and get us a yard when we need a yard,” Beckman said. “I mean, we can’t put the ball on the 1-yard line for two downs and not get the ball in the end zone.
“This is college football, come off the football, regardless of who is running, Donovonn Young or Nathan Scheelhaase, and get that one yard.”
While Beckman didn’t blame anyone specifically for the offensive miscues, it was quite obvious that he expects more from his offensive linemen.
“We just need to knock the frickenin’ crap out of someone,” said Beckman during his radio interview, implying that Illinois needs more practice in chutes, which is a training tool for offensive and defensive linemen. “It’s more than Nathan. It’s the group as a whole.”
Illinois had two other chances to score in the first half, driving the ball inside of the Minnesota 35 but a fumbled snap after a costly holding penalty, and a sack on a third down-and-4 play kept the Illini with just three points in the first half.
“We have to finish better – three points are not going to work. We can’t win games like that,” Lankford said. “Our biggest problem in penalties and negative plays, I know I had a holding call on that one drive.
“Coach (Billy) Gonzales shows us all of the time statistics on the top offensive teams, and they don’t get behind the sticks.”
Even with those missed chances, Illinois still found itself tied with Minnesota, 3-3, at halftime.
“Defensively, I thought we played better,” Beckman said. “I thought we tackled much better than we did the week before in Columbus.”
The Illini defense, which has allowed 31 or more points in six straight games coming into Saturday, gave up just 309 yards of total offense — 145 of those in the first half.
“We were lot more discipline and we played with a lot of emotion. It showed up, but we have to do a better job of finishing ourselves,” Illinois senior defensive end Michael Buchanan said. “We’re not getting W’s on the board, I do feel like we are playing better as a team. The last couple of weeks, we have played better, but we just haven’t finished games.
“When we lose, we lose as a team.”
Minnesota finally found the end zone with 2 minutes, 31 seconds left in the third quarter on Kirkwood’s 3-yard touchdown run.
Illinois had two possessions in the fourth quarter to tie the game with a touchdown. The first ended on downs when Scheelhaase had back-to-back incompletions from the Minnesota 35 and the second resulted in a Scheelhaase fumble on a quarterback sneak attempt on a third-and-1 at the Illinois 29.
“That’s just Nathan trying to make a play,” Beckman said. “But that’s not a smart play. That’s not how he is taught to do it. He knew as soon as he came to the sideline … that is something that is taught at Camp Rantoul. We do not reach the football out to make a play.”
Minnesota capitalized on the turnover with Kirkwood’s second touchdown run of the game as the Golden Gophers improve to 6-4 overall and 2-4 in the conference. With the win, Minnesota is eligible for a bowl berth.
“I think the biggest thing is that I’m happy for our kids and certainly our seniors,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “We found a way to get it done today.
“We played old-fashion football. We ran the ball, played great defense and we didn’t turn it over.”
The Illini will honor their seniors next Saturday in the final home game of the season when Illinois hosts the Purdue Boilermakers, a 27-24 winner over Iowa on Saturday, for a 2:30 p.m. contest at Memorial Stadium.
The difference between winning and losing can be as little as 1 yard.
- Trojans cruise to victory COVINGTON, Ind. - The Covington softball team had a big first inning as they scored five runs on their way to defeating Attica 11-1. Attica threatened to score in the first, getting Karrah Pattengale to second, but they were unable to drive her home.
- Lunger steps up for Buffaloes GEORGETOWN -- In only the second start of his career, Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman pitcher Tyler Lunger pitched a five-hit complete game as the Buffaloes defeated Milford 8-2 on Thursday in Vermilion Valley Conference action. "I feel I threw well
- Maroons blitz young Vikings DANVILLE -- In the process of gaining experience, the Danville boys tennis team has taken a few lumps in the first few weeks of season. On Thursday afternoon, the Champaign Central Maroons delivered a few lessons to the younger Vikings with a 9-0 vic
- Peelman pitches no-hitter as Vikings beat Maroons CHAMPAIGN -- Alissa Peelman pitched a no-hitter as the Danville High School softball team beat Champaign Central 11-0 in five innings on Thursday in Big 12 Conference action. Peelman was also 3-of-4 with three RBIs for the Vikings while Mackenzie Kin
- Thursday's Local Scores PREP BASEBALL At Georgetown Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman 8, Milford 2 Milford 101 000 0 -- 2 5 10 GRFC 200 141 x -- 8 8 3 WP -- Tyler Lunger. LP -- Clayton Rieches. Two or more hits -- GRFC: Dylan Bina, Ethan Silva. 2B
- Better late than never for Bott BISMARCK -- Marshall golf coach Matt Grobe completely surprised Bismarck-Henning standout Andy Bott with an e-mail earlier this year. Bott, who is a three-time all-stater for the Blue Devils, was preparing to attend Illinois Wesleyan in the fall. "Ou
- Nourie, Tigers beat Comets 20-4 in five inning game MUNCIE -- On a very windy day which made playing softball tough for both teams, Westville defeated Oakwood in five innings 20-4 with some good offensive production and a solid pitching performance from Stefanie Nourie. Nourie got her first win of the
- Falcons make quick work of Pats WEST LEBANON, Ind. - North Vermillion sent 11 batters to the plate in the top of the first inning and scored seven runs en route to a 13-1 win over the homestanding Seeger Patriots. The visiting Falcons got five hits including doubles by Jordan West
- Salt Fork's Learnard pitches perfect game JAMAICA -- Salt Fork's Ross Learnard finally got back on the mound on Wednesday for the first time in a week and he did not disappoint, pitching a perfect game as the Salt Fork baseball team beat Schlarman Academy in five innings. "He had his breakin
- Patriots smash Falcons CAYUGA, Ind. - Seeger took an early lead, extended it and then kept North Vermillion at bay as the Patriots defeated the host Falcons 14-3 in five innings. The visitors scored one run in the top of the first inning and, after North Vermillion went do
- More Sports Headlines