Scheelhaase Sets Illini Total Yards Record on Senior Day
Seniors Fight until the End
Illinois battled in their last game of the season for the 15 Illini seniors. As the seniors' careers as Illini came to a close, Illinois and Northwestern put on a shootout performance in front of the home crowd at Memorial Stadium ending in a 37-34 Northwestern victory. Leading the senior pack with 362 total yards, senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase broke Juice Williams' (10,594 yards) career total offense record and closed his career as Illinois' all-time leader with 10,634 yards, the seventh-best total in Big Ten history.
"After losing it's hard to take in what all that means," Scheelhaase said of the total offense record. "It's one of those things I'll definitely look back on and just be proud of and be so thankful for all the people that made something like that happen.
"Obviously, with that many yards as a quarterback you're not doing a lot of it yourself, you're surrounded by a bunch of guys that are helping you out. To go in the record book at a school like this, with a record like that, it's amazing. It's an amazing feeling. It's something I really can't wrap my head around quite yet. I think in the future, probably in a couple weeks or something, I'll be able to be more proud of it, but today it still stings a little bit."
After not scoring in the first quarter, the Illini showed a new burst of energy to start the second quarter which they kept up the rest of the game. Senior wide receiver Steve Hull got the Illini on the board with a spectacular touchdown catch from Scheelhaase - his former roommate - while on his back in the end zone, putting Illinois on the board 10-7, shortly into the second quarter.
Hull collected a career-high 13 receptions for 155 yards, his fourth consecutive 100-yard receiving game, moving him into eighth place in single-season receiving yards by an Illini with 993 yards. Hull's 13 catches equaled the second-most receptions by an Illini in a game, tying Keith Jones (vs. Michigan State) in 1988.
"You never really understand what senior day is all about and what seeing guys go before you is really like until you're in those shoes and it's you and your class out there," Scheelhaase said. "All of the sudden you look around and each moment, each step that you take is your last.
"It's crazy that all of those moments are in the past now and everything we'll say about our college football days will start with, `remember when' or, `I wish we could have one more.' It's been a blast. I can't describe at all how much this program and people believing in me has meant to me. It's taught me so much and I've grown up so much in this time. It's crazy to think that it's over."
With just over five minutes left until halftime, Illinois' Taylor Zalewski buried a 51-yard field goal - the second longest in his career - to tie the game, 17-17. The game turned into a boxing match with the in-state rivals exchanging scores the rest of the way. Northwestern went up on Illinois 20-17 at halftime, and then the Illini swung back with a 55-yard touchdown run by Josh Ferguson just 27 second into the second half.
Ferguson eclipsed 100 yards on the ground for the second-straight game and third time this season, finishing with 110 yards and two scores.
Northwestern and the Illini shared frequent lead changes and momentum swings throughout the game, but the Wildcats came out on top, 37-34.
"I think down the road it's the memories and the moments that you get," Scheelhaase said. "People don't necessarily see on Saturdays. Everyone sees the result of games, the passes and throws, runs people had and tackles made, but for us it's the little things. Coming into the locker room and just hanging out. We all will just miss the camaraderie of it. You can never describe it and never relive again the moments that we've had together."
"It was awesome," Osei said. "It was just a privilege to be able to wear his number and represent him as best I could. I know his wish was to be out there on the field and it was just an amazing feeling to represent Lank on the field."
With 2:23 left in the game, Scheelhaase hit Osei in the end zone for a touchdown, bringing Illinois within three, and keeping the Illini hopes alive. It was Osei's first career touchdown and he finished the day with eight catches for 93 yards, both career highs.
"Lank's a great leader," Osei said. "He leads both on and off the field. Guys see him on the sideline coaching people up, trying to get people energized and things like that. So he's done a great job and people have always respected him and look up to him."
"He came up to me yesterday and asked if he could do it and of course we asked Ryan and there's no question that we thought that would be a great tribute to a close, close friend," head coach Tim Beckman said. "That's what football does. It is about W's, and we all understand that, but the bond that these players have made with one another will last a lifetime."