The Washington Huskies looked at home in the Illini’s Chicago homecoming at Soldier Field, overcoming a 14-0 second half run by Illinois to hold onto the 34-24 win.
Washington ran the ball with ease throughout the contest. Junior running back Bishop Sankey rushed 35 times for 208 yards and a touchdown.
Sankey’s rushing touchdown came at the start of the second half on the Huskies’ first drive. Sankey got four touches in the Huskies’ first five plays to start the half, running for 60 yards, including runs of 22 and 25 yards. Sankey scored on a one yard touchdown. Washington led 17-3 two minutes into the second half.
Junior running back Jesse Callier gave Sankey a break on the ensuing Husky drive, scoring on a 39 yard touchdown run of his own.
After a completing a 43 yard pass to Kasen Williams, senior quarterback Keith Price threw a screen pass to Jaydon Williams for a nine yard touchdown, cracking the game open at 31-10 with 3:32 left in the third quarter.
Missed tackles were trend for the Illinois.
“Defensively we just did not slow them down,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “I saw tackling was the major concern in the third and fourth quarter. We have to tackle better when we’re playing a team that is a top-25 football team.”
The Husky defense wasn’t any easier for the Illini. Washington Junior defensive end Josh Shirley had three sacks, all in the first half.
Just when things started to get out of hand, the renewed Illini offensive clawed their way back into the contest. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase answered back-to-back Washington scores with a 72 yard touchdown pass to Ryan Lankford.
“It was a momentum swing for us,” Lankford said. “Guys were really fired up after that and started to play like we had a chance to win this game. We never gave up and that was really positive to see out there.”
With change of pace freshmen Aaron Bailey in at quarterback, Illinois ran a reverse to former quarterback Miles Osei. Osei threw a 35 yard pass to Matt LaCosse, bringing the Illini to the WASH 19.
On a huge 4th and one, Bailey was at quarterback again and this time tucked the ball for a ten yard score. The Illini trailed 31-24 with 9:10 left.
With 6:52 left in the game, the Illinois defense was presented with a pivotal 3rd and 8 with the opportunity to get the ball back and tie the game up.
As was the case throughout the night, the Washington offense found a way to move the chains, completing a 27 yard screen pass to junior Jesse Callier. The Huskies netted a field goal to go up 34-24 with under five minutes remaining.
Down only ten points, the Fighting Illini still had a chance–until they gave the ball back to Washington.
Illinois ran another quirky Cubit trick play, this time with Scheelhaase catching a lateral. After catching the pass, Scheelhaase threw another pass and took a massive hit on the release. Washington cornerback Gregory Ducre came down with the ball. The referees determined Scheelhaase’s pass was an illegal forward pass anyways. The play halted the Illini comeback.
The missed opportunities to get back into the game will haunt Illinois.
“We just didn’t make plays when we needed to make plays,” Beckman said. “We left some points out there on the football field and in the football game with a missed field goal and opportunities really towards the red zone and a couple sacks took us out of some situations that we could have put points on the board.”
With the win, Washington improved to 2-0 and will play Idaho State next week.
Illinois left Soldier Field without giving their hometown faithful a win, but they’ll head back to Champaign with their heads up.
“One thing I’m proud of this team for is the way we fought,” Senior linebacker Jonathan Brown said. “This situation could’ve turned south, but I was proud of the way the guys stood up and fought all the way to the end tonight. The team definitely showed heart and with a performance like that, we can find the things we need to improve on.”