CHAMPAIGN — Judging by the crowd on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the final outcome of the Big Ten football contest between Ohio State and Illinois was never in doubt.
The fans clad in the scarlet and gray colors for the third-rated Buckeyes nearly outnumbered the orange and blue for the Fighting Illini and when Ohio State jumped out to a 28-0 lead, the sounds of those fans and the Ohio State band made you feel like you were in Columbus, Ohio.
“It started with believing. Ohio State is No. 3 and we’re not ranked,’’ said Illinois sophomore defensive back V’Angelo Bentley. “We want to get to where they are at.
“All week, we tried to get all of our guys to believe that we could do this. We knew we could play with them. We got ourselves in a hole early, and it was time for someone to make a play.’’
And Bentley was just the guy.
His 67-yard punt return for a touchdown, the first for the Illini in 10 years, ignited a spirited effort from the Illinois football team, but the Ohio State Buckeyes, with their eyes firmly set on a spot in the BCS National Championship game, won their 22nd consecutive game with a 60-35 victory before 44,095 at Memorial Stadium.
“They have some skilled athletes, and they are very well coached,’’ said Illinois coach Tim Beckman. “I thought our players battled to the dang end. They never came up short, they continued to fight.’’
But in the end, it was a 1-2 punch of Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller that was just too much for Illinois to handle.
Hyde ran for 246 yards on just 24 carries while also scoring four times; while Miller ran for 184 and passed for another 150 and two touchdowns. Those two combined for 430 of Ohio State’s 441 rushing yards.