CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Nathan Scheelhaase passed for 312 yards and four touchdowns to lead Illinois to a surprise 45-17 win Saturday over Cincinnati.
The Illini (2-0) went up 21-0 in the second quarter and survived a Bearcat rally to stay undefeated.
For the Bearcats (1-1) the loss made worse by quarterback Munchie Legaux's injury. He left in the fourth quarter on a cart with what appeared to be a serious leg injury. Details were not immediately available.
Scheelhaase threw to 11 different receivers. The biggest catch was Steve Hull's 22-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. It capped a 99-yard drive and put Illinois up 28-10.
That drive was set up by Legaux's fumble on a fourth-down play at the Illinois goal line. It was first ruled a touchdown but a review revealed Legaux fumbled after a hard hit by Earnest Thomas.
Legaux was 17-31 for 237 yards and a touchdown.
A week after coughing up what had ben a comfortable 18-point lead and just hanging on against Southern Illinois, the game was starting to feel uncomfortably familiar for the Illini late in the second quarter and early in the third.
That 21-0 lead turned into 21-7 near the end of the first half when Legaux hit Max Morrison with a pass from the Illinois 1.
The momentum, Illinois' friend for most of the first 30 minutes, now belonged to the Bearcats.
A field goal by Tony Miliano shaved Illinois' lead to 21-10 with 11:02 to play in the third quarter.
Just over three minutes later, Cincinnati appeared ready to strike again. With a fouth-and-goal at the Illini 1, Legaux rolled left and barreled toward a hole at the goal line. Earnest Thomas and Mike Svetina closed that gap in a hurry, hitting the 6-5, 200-pound Legaux hard at the goal line. The quarterback appeared to perhaps just get a piece of the ball over the line.
Officials on the field signaled a touchdown, but the review booth caught what was apparently missed by just about everyone in the stadium: Thomas' jarring hit popped the ball free and forward. Bearcat receiver Chris Moore recovered it but, according to the rules, the only Cincinnati player who could recover it was the man who fumbled it, Legaux.
Just like that, a Bearcat touchdown that would have cut the lead to four became Illinois' ball at its own 1.
Two players later the Bearcats thought they had the ball back when Illini running back Donovonn Young appeared to lose to linebacker Nick Temple the Illinois 11.
Instead the play led to another review and another break for the Illini. Young, according to the review, was down before the ball came out.
The deflated Bearcat defense then watched the Illini drive 99 yards — the first 99-yard drive for the Illini since 1971 — to go up 28-10. Hull tucked the ball just inside the pylon for the score.
Illinois also ran the ball effective
A year after his worst season in college football, Scheelhaase seems reborn working with first-year offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
The senior quarterback had as many passing touchdowns Saturday — four — as he had all of last season, a 2-10 nightmare that included a winless Big Ten season.
On Saturday, Scheelhaase had what would have been a career day, if only he hadn't had one of those just a week earlier, throwing for 416 yards and three touchdowns against Southern Illinois.