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Altmyer shines, Illinois escapes Toledo with last-second victory

The Illini’s transfer QB led the come-from-behind effort.

TCR // Jack Jungmann

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Deep breath.

Despite falling behind by double digits in the second half, Illinois rallied back and escaped Toledo to open the 2023 season, 30-28.

Caleb Griffin’s 29-yard field goal with five seconds left sealed the deal on a highly stressful yet exciting start to Bret Bielema’s third season in Champaign.

“I’m proud of our team,” head coach Bret Bielema said postgame. “A classic grind-it, gritty win.”

TCR // Brad Repplinger


Spirits were high at Memorial Stadium after Luke Altmyer and the Illini offense started fast, cashing in a 1-yard Josh McCray touchdown on its 10-play, 75-yard season-opening drive.

Those good feelings didn’t last long, however. Everything came up Toledo the rest of the half.

Penalties were the story on the Illinois side, as the Illini couldn’t stop shooting themselves in the foot early. They were called for nine first half penalties resulting in 90 yards, stalling their own offensive drives and providing Toledo with new life on theirs.

“That’s just not us,” Bielema said.

Aaron Henry’s defense did a lot of bending but not breaking but, ultimately, it broke on back-to-back drives. Toledo scored touchdowns both to close the first half and open the second, opening up a 19-7 lead and leaving a strong season-opening crowd silent.

That’s when everything changed.

A Miles Scott pick-six with 8:13 to play in the third quarter was the life Illinois needed, drawing them within five and halting the prolonged stretch of dominance for Toledo.

“I was just telling myself, ‘change the game, make a play,’” Scott said.

The crowd was instantly re-energized, and Illinois reflected that on the field.

Luke Altymer found Pat Bryant for touchdowns on back-to-back drives and Illinois regained the lead — but couldn’t hold it.

After Toledo QB DeQuan Finn led the Rockets’ offense down the field for a go-ahead score with just under 3-minutes to play, the game was in the hands of Altmyer and the Illini offense.

“I knew we had one shot to go do it,” Altmyer said. “We had to go make a play.”

And he delivered.

A clutch throw on 4th-and-4 to Casey Washington was the highlight as the Illini drove down the field and set Caleb Griffin up for the winner.

Altmyer finished his first game in orange and blue 18-of-26 with 211 yards passing and two touchdowns, also adding 69 yards on the ground.

“Just his presence, his calmness, his demeanor was very impressive,” Bielema said. “The whole game was pretty special.”

Entering the season, the quarterback position was one of the biggest questions surrounding this Illinois team. Altmyer answered a lot of those questions in the season-opener.

“In a million years I would have never imagined myself being here,” Altmyer said. “A night that I’ll probably never forget.”


  • PICK-6: Miles Scott’s 48-yard pick-six in the third quarter completely flipped the script on the game. With every ounce of momentum on Toledo’s side, that play gave Illinois the juice they needed to complete the comeback.
  • FOURTH-DOWN HEROICS: With the game on the line, Luke Altmyer found Casey Washington for a 33-yard completion on 4th-and-4 to extend the Illini’s game-winning drive.
  • GAME-WINNER: Caleb Griffin provided the game-winning points, drilling a 29-yard field goal with just five seconds remaining. It was the senior kicker’s first game-winning field goal of his college career.


Josh McCray caps off an impressive first drive of the season with this 1-yard score.

A DESPERATELY needed jolt of life into the building courtesy of Miles Scott.

The game-winner:



The Illini will head to Lawrence for a battle with Kansas on Friday night.

Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

Should be fun.