After a long offseason, the Illini fans were awarded a nail-biter in the 2017 season opener against Ball State.
Coming into the game, the Fighting Illini were favored by five points over the Cardinals. However, each side seemed evenly matched throughout the entirety of the game. Both teams ended the year with a 2-10 record and winless in their conference play.
The teams traded blows until the Illini took a three-point lead after a Mike Epstein touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
With just 2:06 left on the clock, Ball State drove 39 yards down the field. The Fighting Illini caught a break when the Cardinals received a ten-yard penalty on a twelve-yard completion by Ball State quarterback Riley Neal. Instead of having the ball at the Illinois 22-yard line, the ball was placed at the Illinois 44-yard line. After failing to convert, Ball State faced a fourth down at the Illinois 36-yard line with five seconds left.
With no other choice, Coach Mike Neu sent out his field goal unit down three points. And, of course, Lovie Smith attempted to ice the kicker by calling a timeout right before the Cardinals attempted the kick.
After the timeout, the Ball State kicker Morgan Hagee lined up for a 54-yard field goal to try and send the game into overtime.
Snap was good, the hold was good, but the kick was not.
Jamal Milan got a great push up the middle to get a hand on the ball to clinch the game and give the Illini a win in their season opener.