Illini Lose Heartbreaker To Ohio State
Nov. 11, 2000
By JOHN KELLY Associated Press Writer
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Dan Stultz kicked Ohio State past Illinois and into another pivotal matchup with Michigan.
Stultz hit a 34-yard field goal with six seconds left Saturday as No. 13 Ohio State beat the Illini 24-21 to move into a four-way tie with Purdue, Northwestern and Michigan atop the Big Ten.
"This is huge for us," said Bellisari, who said the Buckeyes learned at halftime - down 14-12 - that league-leading Northwestern and Purdue lost earlier. "We knew what we had to play for."
The Buckeyes (8-2, 5-2) responded, especially Bellisari. Illinois intercepted three of his passes to protect its fragile lead, but he recovered to lead tying and winning drives.
Stultz, who made four field goals in the game, kicked a 17-yarder with 6:05 left to tie the game a 21.
"You can't second guess our heart and you can't second guess Dan Stultz's heart today," said Stultz, clutching a game ball.
The victory sends Ohio State into yet another season-ending, and season-turning, game against Michigan on Saturday in Columbus.
"I'm a happy guy," Ohio State coach John Cooper said. "We're playing for a share of the championship."
The loss leaves Illinois (5-5, 2-5) still one victory short of bowl eligibility in a season in which they lost three Big Ten games by four points or less.
"It's hard especially with the season we've had," tight end Josh Whitman said. "We've been in a lot of games like this and lost. It gets harder and harder each time."
The Buckeyes ran at will most of the game with Jonathan Wells gaining 131 yards and Derek Combs adding 65. But Illinois made just enough big plays to keep them from the end zone.
Bobby Jackson stopped Jerry Westbrooks short on fourth-and-goal from the 2 on the Buckeyes' first drive, forcing them to settle for Stultz's 19-yard field goal.
Fred Wakefield's interception killed one Ohio State drive. And after a blocked punt gave the Buckeyes the ball at Illinois' 43, the offense stalled and Stultz kicked a 41-yarder to make it 7-6.
Illinois scored on its next drive when Antoineo Harris ran 25 yards for a touchdown to put Illinois ahead 14-6 with 12:44 left.
Ohio State missed another scoring opportunity on the next drive. David Mitchell's interception gave OSU the ball at Illinois 22, but Eugene Wilson dove to intercept Bellisari at the goal line.
Given another chance with 2:11 remaining, Bellisari drove the Buckeyes 80 yards and hit Darnell Sanders for a 1-yard touchdown play. The Buckeyes went for 2, but Jamar Martin dropped Bellisari's pass in the end zone, leaving Illinois ahead 14-12 at the half.
Ohio State scored on its first drive in the second half on a 7-yard pass from Bellisari to Sanders. But OSU again failed to convert on a 2-point conversion and led 18-14.
Wilson's second interception came on a deep pass from Bellisari. Wilson leaped above Vanness Provitt to snatch a ball at the Illinois 15.
Illinois took advantage. Kurt Kittner threw 47 yards to Greg Lewis at the 13. But two plays later, Mike Doss knocked Kittner from the game with a helmet-to-helmet hit as Kittner slid for the first down at the Ohio State 2.
Kittner lay still for almost 10 minutes, before rising and walking off the field. He was taken to the hospital with a possible concussion, but school officials said nothing more than he was expected to be released late Saturday night.
Ohio State converted a fourth-and-1 at the Illinois 22, and drove to the Illinois 5. Twice, Bellisari failed to leap over the line from the 1. Cooper opted not to try again, and Stultz tied it at 21 with a 17-yard field goal with 6:05 left.
"We kicked the field goal to tie because Kittner was out of the game," Cooper said. "They were putting the ball in the hands of a young quarterback. Had Kittner been in the game, we would have gone for it."
A dropped third-down pass ended Illinois' drive, and Steve Fitts' punt pinned Ohio State at its own 11 with 3:40 to go.
Bellisari and Wells took turns running, marching the Buckeyes to the 17 with 6 seconds left to set up the winning kick in a swirling wind. It sailed just above and inside the right goal post.
"It wasn't pretty. It wasn't down the middle but it's three points," Stultz said.