Illinois rolls over Northwestern to win Land of Lincoln Trophy

Brandon Peters threw for 242 yards and a touchdown and Chase Brown rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown in the Illini’s 47-14 victory Saturday.

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Illinois wide receiver Casey Washington catches a deep pass from Brandon Peters as Northwestern defensive back Rod Heard II defends Saturday in Champaign.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

CHAMPAIGN — Even with only five victories, the Illini harbor hopes of going to a bowl game. They certainly earned some style points with a rousing 47-14 victory Saturday over Northwestern to snap a six-game skid in the Land of Lincoln Trophy game.

Brandon Peters threw for 242 yards and a touchdown, Chase Brown rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown and Isaiah Williams had 113 receiving yards and a touchdown catch. Josh McCray, Daniel Barker and Williams also scored rushing touchdowns for Illinois.

With 82 bowl-game spots to fill, the Illini (5-7, 4-5 Big Ten) might have benefitted if there weren’t enough six-win teams, which are guaranteed a bowl bid. But victories by several teams with five wins entering Saturday dashed those hopes.

The Illini might be ruing close losses to Maryland (20-17), Purdue (13-9) and Rutgers (20-14). Pulling out just one of them would have made the Illini bowl-eligible. But Bielema still was pleased with the season.

“It’s been fun to build this thing,” first-year Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “I believe we are heading in the right direction. I’ve felt all along that we were on a steady path to this place. I liked our focus all week, and it showed.”

Illinois dominated the Wildcats from the beginning and scored more points (37) in the first half than it did in any one full game all season (30 against Nebraska and UTSA).

The Illini took control early, scoring midway through the first quarter after Isaiah Gay recovered an Evan Hull fumble on the Wildcats’ 8-yard line. Barker punched it in for a touchdown, followed two minutes later by another score on Peters’ 39-yard pass to Williams for a 14-0 lead.

After Peters hit Casey Washington with a 56-yard pass, Brown scampered one yard for the Illini’s third touchdown of the half. Williams then ran 21 yards for another Illinois touchdown. Three James McCourt field goals gave the Illini a 37-7 lead at the half.

Northwestern (3-9, 1-8) got on the board with 6:58 left in the first half on a one-yard run by quarterback Ryan Hilinski, capping an 11-play, 75-yard drive to make the score 28-7. Hilinski passed for 123 yards, Hull rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown and Malik Washington had 83 receiving yards.

The Wildcats looked lost throughout the game and will have to wait a year for a chance to win back the Land of Lincoln Trophy.

“Today was kind of a microcosm of the season,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “On our end, opportunities lost. We turned the ball over early, gave up explosive plays and had opportunities to get off the field. I’m disappointed, obviously.”

“We went from probably my most veteran team to probably my youngest. Those are excuses. We’ve just got to get to work and get better. It all starts and ends with me. I’m the guy who needs to get things in the right place.”

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