Michael Hoomanawanui makes a one-handed catch for a first down during the first half. (AP Photo)
Oct. 25, 2008
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Dustin Sherer threw two touchdowns to David Gilreath and ran for another, rallying Wisconsin over Illinois 27-17 on Saturday and snapping the Badgers' longest losing streak in 12 years.
Wisconsin (4-4, 1-4 Big Ten) finally got its first conference win with a solid effort defensively too, intercepting Juice Williams three times, including two long returns that set up points as Illinois (4-4, 2-3) squandered its chance to give coach Ron Zook his first win here.
It's been a week of worry around the Wisconsin program that included several empty bleachers in the normally jammed student section, and after the first drive of the second half, it looked like those fears were justified.
Linebacker Jaevery McFadden slumped over in disbelief when A.J. Jenkins caught a 27-yard pass and cornerback Niles Brinkley shrugged his shoulders moments later when Jenkins wasn't covered on a 14-yard TD throw from Williams that gave Illinois a 17-10 lead.
But Wisconsin came back because of Gilreath's effort.
Gilreath took a short toss over the middle on third-and-17 and evaded four would-be tacklers on a 49-yard reception to make it 17-all and give Sherer, the junior who took over as the starter last week for similarly erratic senior Allan Evridge, his first career TD pass.
On the next possession, Brinkley intercepted Williams when the ball tipped off a receiver's hand and Brinkley's 47-yard return set up a 38-yard field goal by Philip Welch to give Wisconsin a 20-17 lead with 12:11 left.
Wisconsin's defense then made a stop and Sherer found favorite target Garrett Graham for a 45-yard gain. Sherer, who finished 12-for-22 for 174 yards, capped the 10-play drive by rolling right and throwing behind Gilreath, who slid and made the catch for an 8-yard TD giving Wisconsin a 27-17 lead with 3:28 left.
Williams' interceptions killed the Illini momentum and gave Wisconsin much needed confidence with a struggling offense that didn't start running back P.J. Hill, hasn't had a 100-yard rusher in five weeks and may have lost its biggest playmaker in Travis Beckum.
Beckum, who skipped a chance at the NFL to return for his senior season, made two catches for 16 yards, dropped another and injured his left ankle blocking in the third quarter was taken to the locker room and did not return.
Williams just wasn't as dynamic as he'd been in the previous three weeks when he averaged more than 411 yards of total offense. He failed to find space to scramble or open receivers quick enough and finished 17-for-32 for 221 yards, also throwing a 2-yard TD pass to Zach Becker early in the second quarter to give Illinois a 7-3 lead.
But that would be the only consistent drive the Illini would put together in the first half.
Sherer answered by getting to the end zone on a 15-yard scramble to give Wisconsin a 10-7 lead after the Badgers scored first on Welch's 40-yard field goal following Chris Maragos' 51-yard interception return.
Matt Eller's 47-yard field goal made it 10-10 at halftime.