That Indiana week was one of the most impressive single-game performances by a quarterback in Illinois history, and it’s becoming apparent that John Paddock’s legacy as an Illini will be defined by that game.
That got me to thinking, which Illini exploded for one game, or series, but had a relatively pedestrian rest of their career?
Dominic Stampley - FB (Week 8, 2018)
(4 Rec, 153 Yrds, 2 TD)
2018 was not a great year for the Illini at 4-8, and the Week 8 Maryland game was no exception as it was a 63-33 loss. Dominic Stampley was one bright spot, however. Even though the year was not great for the receiver, as just about half of his receiving yards were gained in this one game, he had himself a day.
He led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, despite only four catches. In a game where defense was very hard to come by, and a day where there was little to cheer for, Stampley definitely left his... stamp... sorry, on this one, even if was the only great game of his collegiate career.
Mike Thorne Jr. - MBB (Games 1 & 2, 2015-16)
(46 PTS, 22 REB in 2 games)
Thorne Jr. had himself a very similar situation to Stampley, except Thorne Jr. overall had a much better career. I don't like putting him on the “one-hit wonders” list, because he really wasn’t. He averaged almost 13 and 9 in 2015-16. That being said, he had two monster games to start out the season, with the first being a 25 and 14 double-double, and the second was 21 and 8. The reason he is here is because these are two monster games in a season where he did not lead the team in points the rest of the year, and was once again a bright spot in a lackluster year for the Illini.
They went 15-19, obviously missing the tournament. And in the two great games Thorne Jr. had... a 12-point loss North Florida, and a six-point win over North Dakota St. Nonetheless, this stretch was definitely the highlight of Thorne’s Illini career.
Cal Hejza - Baseball (Feb. 25, 2023)
(2-3, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 4 R, 2 BB)
It wasn’t a great year for Cal Hejza last year, hitting just .228 with a .678 OPS in 184 ABs, but the Feb. 25 game against No. 15 Southern Miss was outstanding. Hitting two home runs and accumulating seven RBIs while getting on base 4 out of 5 times up to bat is quite the accomplishment. Hejza drove in more than half of the team’s 13 runs, and yet it still wasn’t enough as they fell to the Golden Eagles 14-13.
Along with that, the year for the Illini was disappointing, going 25-27 overall on the season. He and the Illini may have not had the greatest season, but this game was one for the record books, even if it didn’t result in a win.
John Paddock - FB (Week 10, 2023)
(24-36, 507 Yrds, 4 TD, 1 INT)
I’m pretty sure when Altmyer was ruled out, a shootout was the last thing most fans saw coming, yet 48 points later and an OT win here we are. This game was one for the record books and the one that made me think of writing this article in the first place. He transferred in as a sixth year walk on, and now has the second most passing yards in a game in Illini history. Barring any repeat performances in week 12 against Northwestern, Paddock is the definition of a one-hit wonder, and oh boy, was it a hit.
After a 2-3 record in the games listed above with the only wins being against Indiana football and North Dakota State basketball, and all the seasons listed above being lackluster at best, it seems the moral of the story is that if there is a big one-hit standout, it is probably a bad sign for the state of the team. However, the athletes listed above all had outstanding games, and it’s a shame these can’t be listed a breakout performances rather than standalone performances.