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Penn State falls on last-second kick at Illinois

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Illinois drove 54 yards in the final two minutes to kick a last-second field goal and upset Penn State 16-14.

After becoming bowl-eligible last week, Penn State was unable to extend their winning streak to three, falling to Big Ten foe Illinois 16-14 on a last second field goal.

Penn State falls to 6-5 on the year and 2-5 in the Big Ten. Illinois keeps their bowl hopes alive and improves to 5-6 on the campaign. Illinois, who came into today with just one Big Ten victory this year and two in the past three seasons, were given new life offensively on senior day by senior back-up quarterback Reilly O’Toole. The winds were strong and played a big influence into both team’s kicking games as well.

Penn State came out of the gate hot, pinning Illinois inside the 10 on the opening kickoff. After forcing them to punt into the wind from the end zone, Penn State set up shop at their own 48 and scored on a 9 yard drive in 4:49, capped off by an 18 yard touchdown pass from sophomore Christian Hackenberg to freshman wideout Chris Goodwin. Goodwin appeared to lose the ball on his way down, but the Nittany Lions were able to kick the extra point before the review was initiated, giving them a quick 7-0 lead with 8:24 in the first.

After stopping the Fighting Illini to a three and out the next drive, Penn State started their second drive from around midfield again. After being stopped on three plays, Penn State ran a fake punt direct-snap for 32 yards with fifth year senior defensive end Brad Bars to put them at the Illinois 22. Penn State would keep driving deep into the red zone before eventually stalling at the 3, setting them up for a chip-shot field goal. But a mishandled snap prevented the attempt from being made, giving Illinois an important early stop to keep it a one score game.

Illinois had a hard time getting any offense going in the first half. Their first four drives only resulted in 13 plays and one first down. On the first three of those drives, they punted into the wind and set Penn State up around midfield. Field position would be a problem for Illinois until forcing junior running back Akeel Lynch to fumble, giving them the ball at the Penn State 46 with 8:30 left in the half. After a pair of punts, the Fighting Illini made a change at quarterback, taking out sophomore Wes Lunt for O’Toole. O’Toole would rally the offense, engineering a 12 play drive that went 68 yards. On that drive, Penn State had them stopped, but jumped offside on a 4th and 3 to keep the drive alive. O’Toole hit tightend Matt LaCosse with a one yard pass to tie the game at 7 at the end of the half.

Illinois would get the break of the game to start of the second half, where they would recover the kickoff after the wind blew it back to the Penn State 28. With Penn State’s returners deep, they were not able to get to the ball in time and Illinois found themselves in scoring range early. Penn State stopped them from reaching the endzone, but sophomore kicker David Reisner, who came into the game with just one field goal made all year, split the uprights, giving Illinois their first lead at 10-7 with 12:26 in the third.

Penn State could not take advantage of having the wind at their backs in the 3rd, and Illinois defense seemed to have control of the game. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Hackenberg, who had been shaken up earlier, hit his junior tightend Jesse James for a 9 yard game on a 3rd and 4 to give Penn State a first down at midfield. 2 plays later, Lynch, who had been benched for his earlier fumble, ripped off a 47 yard touchdown run to give Penn State a 14-10 lead with 13:37 left to play. Illinois’ offense continued to find their rhythm under O’Toole, going 58 yards on 11 plays the following possession, resulting in a field goal to bring them within 1. Penn State was stopped on three plays their next drive, and Illinois continued to move the ball, giving Reisner a chance to give them the lead from 50 yards out. But Reisner pushed it left, and with 3:29 remaining, Penn State was a couple first downs away from running out the clock. Illinois’ defense produced once again, holding the Nittany Lions a yard short from a first down after Hackenberg tried to run for the first on a third and 5.

With 1:48 left on the clock, the wind at the back and two timeouts remaining, Illinois went on one more long drive. Starting from their 28, Illinois went 54 yards on 7 plays, the first two being long completions from O’Toole for 25 and 17 yards. Reisner found himself with a chance to give Illinois a win on senior day, and he came through this time, hitting a season long 36 yard attempt, giving Illiniois a 16-14 win.

Lynch would end the day by going for 137 yards on 28 carries. It’s the third straight game that Penn State had a 100 yard rusher after not having any their first eight games.  Illinois was held to just 2-16 on third down, but Penn State’s 93 passing yards prevented them from ever getting a serious attack going all game. O’Toole went 18 for 25 for 157 yards, a touchdown and no picks.

Penn State will end their regular season at home against #11 Michigan State at 3:30 on the 29th, while Illinois will face another 5-6 Big Ten team in Northwestern on the 29th as well at noon.

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