CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Western Illinois’ football team continued its 2018 season in Champaign Saturday, where it found the end zone twice in a 34-14 setback at Illinois. The points marked Western’s first-ever against the Illini, as the first two meetings resulted in scoreless decisions for the Purple and Gold.
The very first drive of the game featured seven points for WIU, and the visitors found themselves inside the Illini 20-yard line twice in the second half (the 16 and the eight), but a forced fumble and turnover on downs put an end to the opportunities.
“We competed and played with extreme effort, and our guys never quit. They fought for four quarters, and that was a great example with what you saw out of our defense tonight,” said head coach Jared Elliott. “Our defense was put into some really bad situations, and they continued to fight back. The resiliency, I was extremely impressed with. We can build on that.
“That second quarter, really after that first series where we scored, we really struggled with field position. They were able to flip the field on us several times, and so that limits some of the things that you can do, but we were trying to open it up as quickly as we could. We had to be aggressive, and finally, we were in a situation where we could start taking some shots and move the ball around a little bit. It came down to some miscues that we’ve got to do a better job of, but I’m proud of how our guys fought for a full 60 minutes.”
The Leathernecks’ opening drive began with three Steve McShane plays that moved the ball 32 yards downfield and into Illinois territory. Tony Taterecorded Western’s longest rush of the game with an 18-yard gain that included fancy footwork and a few jukes, and the play set up Sean McGuire to hitGeorge Wahee for a 20-yard touchdown.
The Illini nearly put points on the board at the start of the second quarter.
Pinned inside their 10-yard line, a bad snap landed in the end zone for a safety, but referees reversed the call with a delay of game penalty on the Leathernecks. Adam Fellner’s punt traveled 39 yards to the WIU 45-yard line, and the ensuing drive led to a game-tying touchdown from MJ Rivers to Edwin Carter. The two connected again with 2:16 to go before halftime to push the score 14-7 in favor of the Illini.
After a stellar game-opening drive, the Leathernecks were in search of their next great stretch, and it came midway through the third quarter with a 49-yard touchdown. Western started things on its 25-yard line and a pair of passes to McShane, lengthened by a targeting penalty, helped the visitors to the Illinois 49.
McGuire found a wide-open Tate down the gap for the longest reception of his career, and the score was cut to 24-14.
The Leathernecks’ next drive captured three-straight plays of 10 or more yards, highlighted by a 31-yard grab by Wahee. The game’s momentum swung in favor of the Purple and Gold, as they stood in the red zone, eying their next score, but a forced fumble capped the drive at the Illini 16.
Western’s final scoring opportunity saw it standing at the Illini 17-yard line with a little over eight minutes remaining in the game. Wahee hauled in a nine-yard pass, just one yard short of a first down, and the play resulted in a turnover on downs.
The Leathernecks will make their home debut next Saturday, playing host to Montana. The 3 p.m. kickoff is also branded as Family Day.
General admission tickets are $15, and $10 for youth and seniors.
– George Wahee recorded his first Leatherneck touchdown on a 20-yard pass from Sean McGuire and finished the game with a game-high 104 receiving yards. Wahee joined Western this season after transferring in as a graduate student from Norfolk State
– The Wahee touchdown marked Western’s first points in program history against the Illini
– Sean McGuire played his first-ever game at Memorial Stadium in 2015. He recorded his first career punt (a touchback), and the game marked his 13th with at least 20 completions and 200 yards passing
– Tony Tates’ 49-yard touchdown reception set a new career-long
– Zach Glisan set a career-high with 13 tackles
– The Leathernecks ended with two players with double-digit tackles (Quentin Moon (15) and Glisan (13))
– Quentin Moon tied his career-high with 15 tackles (eight solo)