By DAVID MERCER,
Associated Press Writer
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Running back Mikel Leshoure rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase added 115 yards and another score to lead the Fighting Illini (2-1) past Northern Illinois, 28-22 on Saturday.
It was Leshoure’s fourth-straight 100-yard game dating to the end of the 2009 season.
NIU (1-2) was led by quarterback Chandler Harnish’s 117 yards rushing and 208 passing. He ran for one touchdown and threw for another.
Illinois offensive lineman Hugh Thornton was hospitalized but able to move his extremities after being carted off the field in the third quarter.
In spite of the Illini’s 389 total yards, 319 of them on the ground, Illinois’ offense went silent for the third and much of the fourth quarter. The defense shut down NIU when it looked like the Huskies might be ready to engineer an upset.
NIU drove to the Illini 46 early in the fourth quarter. On first down, Harnish scooted through the middle of the Illini defense for 16 yards, but was stripped of the ball as he went down by Illinois linebacker Ian Thomas. Defensive back Tavon Wilson recovered.
NIU had the ball back again minutes later, but the Huskies were penalized for a delay of game that turned a second down and 20 into a second-and-25 that the Huskies couldn’t convert.
The Illini offense then came back to life behind Leshoure and Scheelhaase.
Illinois took got the ball at its own 27 after NIU’s punt. Leshoure picked up 33 yards on two big carries and Scheelhaase added 20 on two keepers to drive Illinois to the Huskies’ 21-yard line.
Derek Dimke hit a 32-yard field goal to put Illinois up 21-12, forcing the Huskies to come up with two scores.
They did – a touchdown on an option pass from tailback Jasmin Hopkins to Landon Cox closed the gap to 21-19 and a late field goal.
But those points were sandwiched around a Leshoure touchdown that sealed the game.
The Illini kept that scoring drive alive a fourth-and-1 play at their own 46 with just under five minutes to play. Instead of punting, Illinois ran Leshoure between the right guard and tackle and got the yard.
Leshoure finished off the drive three minutes later with a 29-yard touchdown run and a 28-19 lead.
Saturday was Scheelhaase’s first 100-yard rushing game. The redshirt freshman also threw for 70 yards.
The Illini had six penalties for 60 yards in the game’s first half hour, and they were costly, giving NIU an opening that it eventually used to take the lead.
On a third-and-3 from the Illinois 37, Harnish dropped back to pass, pulled the ball down and ran left, gliding between Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson and cornerback Travon Bellamy on the way to the end zone. The extra was no good, but Harnish’s 37-yard touchdown gave the Huskies a 12-7 lead with just under four minutes to play in the first quarter
But penalties cut both ways for Illinois on the drive they used to retake the lead.
A false start by tackle Jack Cornell forced Illinois into a first-and-15 play at the NIU 45, and three plays later, on a third-and-14, Huskies cornerback Kiaree Daniels gave away NIU’s edge, running into Illini receiver Darius Millines as the ball sailed over both their heads. The 15 yards for an interference set Illinois up at the NIU 29 with a first down. Six plays later, running back Jason Ford sped around the left end of the Huskies line, sliding past linebacker Devon Butler and just inside the pylon.
Scheelhaase’s two-point conversion gave Illinois the 18-12 edge it carried into the half.
Thornton, a 6-5, 310-pound sophomore from Oberlin, Ohio, went low to block for Leshoure on a play late in the third quarter and appeared to drop his head as he made contact.
He lay still as he was strapped to a stretcher and left the field on a cart after Illinois medical staff worked with him for several minutes.
Updated September 19, 2010
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