MINNEAPOLIS — HOW. ABOUT. THAT.
Down to a desperation 4th-and-11, backup quarterback John Paddock delivered a miraculous 84-yard touchdown drive to steal a win from the hands of Minnesota in the game’s final seconds, 27-26.
The win keeps Illinois (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) very much in bowl contention and moves head coach Bret Bielema to a remarkable 10-0 against the Gophers (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) in his coaching career.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Things went the Illini’s way as soon as the ball was kicked off.
Minnesota kick returner Sean Tyler fumbled the opening kickoff and Illinois recovered, setting the offense up in the red zone before taking a single snap.
It took just three plays for Luke Altmyer to pay it off, finding Tip Reiman over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown to put the Illini in front 7-0 within the game’s first two minutes.
It didn’t take long for the Gophers to answer, however, as a 6-play, 3-minute touchdown drive led by Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis evened the score at 7 and turned what many thought would be a classic Big Ten West slugfest into a bit of an early shootout.
Both teams traded scores once more before the Gophers were able to gain a 17-14 advantage heading into halftime, converting on a 36-yard field goal attempt following Caleb Griffin failing to do so himself from 46 yards out.
Coming out of the locker room, the Illini brought with them an All-American-sized boost. Following his first half targeting suspension, Johnny Newton rejoined the struggling defense looking to provide a spark.
It took him mere moments to do just that. After a strip sack of Luke Altmyer that set the Gopher offense up at the 12-yard line, Newton came up with a huge sack of Kaliakmanis to force a Minnesota field goal and keep the game within reach.
That stop allowed the Illini to jump back out in front after Kaden Feagin turned a screen pass into a 54-yard house call.
Helped by Newton’s presence on the defensive front, the Illini defense made a complete 180 in the second half, holding the Gophers to just 69 yards. After forcing four consecutive punts, however, one fateful play gave the Gophers life.
With time winding down in the fourth quarter and the Illini looking to put the game away, Isaiah Williams fumbled, setting Minnesota up for what seemed like the game-winning score — a 31-yard touchdown catch by Daniel Jackson.
John Paddock had other ideas.
With 1:32 to play and the Illini backed up at their own 15-yard line, Luke Altmyer took a hard hit and was forced to leave the game with an apparent injury.
In came Paddock, who delivered a gutsy fourth down completion to Isaiah Williams to keep the game alive and soon followed with a game-winning 46-yard dart to Williams to leave Huntington Bank Stadium stunned.
Paddock went 3-for-3 for 85 yards, Williams set career-highs with 131 yards and two touchdowns, and the duo delivered Illinois one of its most improbable victories in recent memory, potentially changing the course of the season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Beautiful throw by Altmyer to find Tip Reiman for the game’s first score.
Kaden Feagin’s got speed, too.
TWEET OF THE GAME
Feel like Newton comes out of halftime like me at the Ribeye Buffet— Bob Zuppke (@BobZuppke) November 4, 2023
The Illini will look for some revenge from last year’s heartbreaker in Bloomington as they welcome Indiana to their Memorial Stadium.
Kickoff is at 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network.