Illinois 33, Rutgers 30
For three quarters Saturday it appeared Ron Zook would begin his Illinois coaching career with a loss as had his three immediate predecessors. His team would have nothing of it.
The Illini finally caught fire in the fourth quarter and rallied from a 20-point second-half deficit to beat Rutgers, 33-30, when Pierre Thomas dived over the goal line in overtime.
"I didn't know we were down by 20," Zook said, "but I told them all along, the score doesn't count until it's over."
Trailing 27-10 when the fourth quarter began, the Illini (1-0) tied the game 27-all when Tim Brasic hit running back E.B. Halsey with a swing pass and he ran in from 13 yards out with 1 minute 13 seconds to go. It was his third touchdown pass in his first game as the Illini's starting quarterback. He also led the team in rushing with 77 yards on 18 carries.
Jason Reda missed a 52-yard field goal attempt for Illinois with 3 seconds left in regulation, and Jeremy Ito gave Rutgers (0-1) a 30-27 lead with his 40-yard field goal on the first overtime possession.
The Illini then overcame a penalty and got a 20-yard run from Halsey to put the ball on the 2 for Thomas's winning dive.
"This is the toughest loss I've ever been a part of," said Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart, who tied a Big East Conference record with his ninth 300-yard game. "We had the game most of the time and we gave it up in the end."
The Scarlet Knights rolled up 507 yards on offense, but they scored only three touchdowns. Ito also missed four of his seven field goal attempts.
"It's tough to beat a team like Illinois when you only kick field goals," Hart said. "If we would have scored some more touchdowns, it would have been harder for them."
Hart was 27 of 44 for 342 yards and two touchdowns.