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Favorite Illini Moment of 2017-18: Matt O’Neall

30 minutes of glory in Iowa City.

Illinois v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Man, this was hard. Let’s work through this together.

I’m not much of a fan of the non-revenue sports. I still pull for them and want to see them succeed, but this wouldn’t be genuine if I got on here and said a track and field performance or the tennis team’s resurgence was my favorite moment.

And as far as the revenue sports go, let’s just be honest with ourselves, this year was really bad. Historically bad. It’s going to get better. I’m optimistic and really believe in Lovie and Underwood. I think they are the right guys for the job, and I am encouraged by the roster makeovers within both programs. I can be positive and still look at the 2017-18 revenue sports season and admit it was absolutely terrible in just about every way.

I’m a hoops guy first and foremost, but this year there wasn’t much to write home about it. I also naturally hold the basketball program to a higher standard. I’m excited about the future, I loved the Brad Underwood hire, Trent Frazier is our savior, and I’m pumped for Ayo Dosunmu and Tevian Jones, but nothing really got me up and out of my seat this year. The early disappointment and heartbreak — way too much heartbreak — killed my spirit fairly quickly and far earlier than usual.

Football on the other hand went 2-10 and 0-8 in conference play. That’s also bad, but like I said, my expectations for this year’s team were pretty low. I figured we were staring down the barrel of our worst year in a long time. The youth and the (still) new coaching staff wasn’t a promising combination.

My favorite Illinois moment of the year was the first half of the Illinois-Iowa football game in Iowa City, a game that the Illini lost 45-16.

Listen, I’m not happy or proud that this is my favorite moment either, but it is what it is.

Illinois wasn’t even leading at halftime of this game. They were down 17-13 after an Iowa touchdown with eight seconds left in the half. Illinois actually out-gained the Hawkeyes on offense 252-248.

It was one of three times Illinois would accomplish that during Big Ten play. The team was 2-2, Mike Epstein was playing well, and the rest of the country didn’t know we were the laughingstock of the Big Ten yet.

More importantly, it was the only time Illinois looked like it belonged on a Big Ten football field all year. Illinois was carving up the Iowa defense averaging 9.4 yards per carry, including a 58-yard Epstein scamper. Louis Dorsey had a 40-yard reception, and the Illini put together three scoring drives in a half, including one for a touchdown. They also would have had another touchdown if not for a few questionable “ineligible player downfield” calls whistled against the young offensive line.

We were complaining about the refs! Most of the other games this year were so out of hand that there was no point to complain about the officiating. We got to be regular football fans!

I remember actually audibly cheering during that half, and then also feeling real disappointment when the drive at the end of the half ended with a field goal. I was trash talking my personal Hawkeye friends and family and having a grand ole’ college football Saturday. It was one of the only fun halves as an Illini Football I can remember having over the past few years.

The cherry on top was getting to see the fans and players take part in the new tradition at Kinnick Stadium of waving to the children’s hospital that overlooks the stadium at the end of the first quarter.

(It’s important to watch how awesome the wave is again, by the way.)

I proudly put on an orange and blue sweater and my roommates and I marched to a local bar in our neighborhood to watch the second half amongst the public.

Of course, Illinois would be outscored 28-3 in the second half, Mike Epstein would leave the game with an injury, and my roommates and I would drown our sorrows in the corner of the beer garden while trying to avoid the sneers from Hawkeye fans.

And nobody would remember the fun first half.

Well, nobody except for me, I suppose.