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After Illini finish 2-9 season, Zook guarantees it won't happen again
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Northwestern's offense rolled up three dozen first downs and 596 yards, but a third-quarter interception by a defensive tackle was Randy Walker's pick for play of the day in the Wildcats' 38-21 win over Illinois on Saturday.
"It was that spark, that catalyst. We gave our offense another possession," said Walker, the Wildcats coach. "It was huge, probably the play of the game."
Barry Cofield's pick of a Tim Brasic pass after the Illini had driven to the Northwestern 9 deflated the offense and Illinois, which had stayed with the Wildcats throughout the first half, never threatened again.
"I couldn't feel my thumb on the ball so I was worried," Brasic said. "I should have called time out to let [the coaches] know. That play really hurt us."
Brett Basanez threw for 240 yards and Tyrell Sutton ran for 212 as Northwestern (7-4, 5-3) handed Illinois (2-9, 0-8) its ninth straight loss. The Wildcats reached seven victories for the first time since 2000 and can look forward to a bowl game next month while Illinois faces more rebuilding under new coach Ron Zook.
The Illini have only one conference victory in three seasons.
"This isn't going to happen again," said Zook, who watched his career record fall to 25-23. "This 2-9, I'm not going to go through this again, I can guarantee that."
Illinois, which hadn't scored a touchdown in two games, did gain 440 yards against Northwestern's defense, ranked last in the Big Ten. But some defensive breakdowns and a trick play from the Wildcats doomed the Illini.
Faced with a fourth-and-5 at the Illinois 28 in the third quarter and kicker Joel Howells on the field as a decoy, the Wildcats hoodwinked the Illini by snapping the ball to Philmore who was just behind center. He quickly handed it to Gerard Hamlett while faking a run to the left and Hamlett went the other way untouched for a touchdown that gave Northwestern a 31-21 lead.
"That was our fast ball," Walker said. "It's a pretty productive play. Our kids executed it well. It's tough to defend if you go out there and hit it fast."
The Illini were completely duped by the play, which Walker says has scored a touchdown each of the eight times he's used it over the past 10 years.
"I haven't seen that since playing football in the backyard," said Illinois safety Kevin Mitchell.
Pierre Thomas gave the Illini their first score on a 1-yard run with 11:52 to go in the second quarter and Tim Brasic threw a pair of 27-yard TD passes, to Jason Davis and Derrick McPhearson.
Thomas finished with 97 yards on 18 carries and Brasic finished the day 20-of-35 for 241 yards. He also ran for 53 yards.