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Illinois upsets No. 7 Penn State in historic 9-OT game

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Craziest game ever.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

No college football game in FBS history had ever gone eight overtimes.

This one went nine, and Illinois emerged victorious.

In front of a national audience at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa., the Illini went back-and-forth with Penn State with the Illini coming out on top, 20-18. The victory Illinois’ first road win over an AP Top-10 squad as an unranked team since 2007 against Ohio State.

After eight overtimes that left the game tied at 18, the ninth overtime finally tipped in the Illini’s favor. After stopping Penn State’s two-point attempt, Brandon Peters — who replaced an injured Art Sitkowski — connected with Casey Washington in the back of the endzone for the win.

Sitkowski got the start on Saturday even though Brandon Peters was cleared to practice earlier this week. Illinois Head Coach Bret Bielema declined to name a starter until Saturday, so the Rutgers implant must’ve showed him enough throughout practice to get the nod.

The Nittany Lions were coming off a bye week in which they had extra time to stew on their disappointing, 23-20, loss against then top-five Iowa. Quarterback Sean Clifford went down with an injury in the second quarter of that contest, but was healthy enough to start against the Illini.

Outside of one drive for the defense and a couple of turnovers for the offense, the first half went about as well as Bielema could’ve asked. The defense was stout, limiting the Nittany Lions to just 143 total yards of offense through the first two frames. No first-half drive for Penn State went longer than 6 plays and only one drive consumed more than 23 yards. Illinois doubled up the No. 7 team in the country on time of possession and first downs, while the defense held the Nittany Lions without a single third down conversion.

It was all Chase Brown for the offense. Seventeen first-half rushing attempts went for 134 yards and a touchdown, his fourth 100-yard rushing game of his career and second of this season. Brown ended the game over 200 yards for the second time in three games — and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week the last time he did so.

The aerial attack was not so hot. Sitkowski completed just 5-of-10 passes for 24 yards and a pick at the half. The second half was not all that kind to the transfer either, as he only completed one pass in the third and fourth quarters.

Josh McCray got the ground game going in the second half. The Alabama native eclipsed 100 yards for the second time this season — carrying the ball 24 times for 142 yards with most of his damage coming in the second half.

Early in the fourth quarter it appeared the Illini took the lead for the first time all game, twice. A 14-yard touchdown pass from Sitkowski to Daniel Barker and a 14-yard run for a touchdown from Brown were both nullified due to penalties. The Illini would have to settle for a field goal, evening the score at 10 apiece after both teams missed a field goal in the third period.

A pair of stingy defensive stops from the Illini defense gave them the ball with under a minute to play. A few run plays, an incompletion and a 3-yard pass took the game into overtime in a 10-10 deadlock.

Ryan Walters’ defensive unit was incredible, forcing the Nittany Lions into a field goal on the first drive of overtime. After trading field goals, the overtime period went into a two-point conversion contest.

After Sean Clifford dropped the receiving end of a Philly Special, the Illini dropped a game-winner as well. The teams traded stops in the fourth OT, and after the Illini bottled up a run attempt in the fifth over-time, Brandon Peters — in for the first time all game — failed to convert the game-winner to Luke Ford.

The sixth overtime didn’t go well for Peters either, airmailing Barker in the end zone. Penn State responded with a stuffed out TE flip play. The game went into the seventh overtime, for just the sixth time in FBS history. After the Illini snuffed a run attempt, Penn State did the same.

For the first time in FBS history, this game went to an eighth overtime. For the first time since the second OT, Isaiah Williams took a jet sweep into the endzone for a two-point conversion. But the Nittany Lions tied the game up at 18-18.

The ninth overtime was different, giving Illinois its first OT win since the season opener in 2005, a 33-30 win over Rutgers.

STAT STUFFERS

  • Chase Brown (ILL): 33 attempts, 223 yards, 1 TD
  • Josh McCray (ILL): 24 attempts, 142 yards
  • Khalan Tolson (ILL): 6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL
  • Devon Witherspoon (ILL): 6 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
  • Ji’Ayir Brown (PSU): 13 tackles
  • Arnold Ebiketie (PSU): 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL

SOUND SMART

Bold strategy, Cotton.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Back-to-back momentum changing plays from Devon Witherspoon.

TWEET(S) OF THE GAME

WHO’S NEXT

The Illini return to Champaign for a contest against a much improved Rutgers (3-4, 0-4) squad next Saturday at 11 a.m. CT.