STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Christian Hackenberg hit Kyle Carter with a 15-yard touchdown pass in overtime and Ryan Keiser sealed the win with an end zone interception, lifting Penn State over Illinois 24-17 on Saturday.
Bill Belton rushed for 202 yards, the first Nittany Lion (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) to hit the 200-yard mark since Larry Johnson in 2002.
Penn State’s Sam Ficken kicked a 35-yard field goal with 41 seconds left in regulation, sending the game into OT.
Hackenberg, who threw for 240 yards, zipped a perfect pass over the middle to Carter for the winner.
Nathan Scheelhaase’s first pass of OT was picked off by Keiser. With a strong second half, Scheelhaase rallied the Illini (3-5, 0-4) back from a 14-0 first-half hole to give them the lead.
Both teams were coming off blowout losses: Penn State was crushed 63-14 at Ohio State and Michigan State thumped the Illini 42-3.
Under coach Bill O’Brien, the Nittany Lions haven’t lost two straight games since their 0-2 start last season.
Scheelhaase did his best to end that streak.
He was strong when needed on Illinois’ late fourth-quarter drive. He eluded pressure on a 12-yard scramble to the 36. With Illinois facing third-and-10, Penn State called its last timeout. Scheelhaase then hit Jon Davis for a 9-yard gain and completed the drive with a 7-yard TD pass to Josh Ferguson for a 17-14 lead.
Penn State tried to pull off the comeback in much the same way it beat undefeated Michigan in a four-overtime thriller last month. Hackenberg’s sideline heave was caught by Allen Robinson for a 39-yard gain. Robinson, who caught 11 passes for 165 yards, had one foot in bounds and an incomplete call was reversed on review.
Belton, in his one mistake, couldn’t hang on to the ball as he plowed into Illinois’ line and lost a fumble with 3:23 left.
Penn State still got one more shot, starting at Illinois’ 49 thanks to an awful punt. Hackenberg failed to connect with Brandon Felder on two shots at the end zone. Ficken still had enough time for the tying field goal.
The Nittany Lions would win their second straight game at home in OT.
Scheelhaase, who threw for 321 yards, went 8 of 10 on Illinois’ third-quarter scoring driving, capped by Ferguson’s 6-yard TD run that cut it to 14-10.
Illinois had little trouble in the first half moving the ball against Penn State, it just couldn’t finish drives with a score.
Scheelhaase had a ball tipped in Penn State territory and intercepted by cornerback Jordan Lucas at the 1. The Nittany Lions pounced, with Belton ripping off a 16-yard run and Hackenberg and Robinson connecting on a 47-yard reception, setting up Belton’s 5-yard TD run for a 7-0 lead.
Again, Illinois drove the ball with ease, only to have a touchdown called back because of a chop block penalty.
Belton and Robinson were the only Nittany Lions to rush or catch the ball in the first quarter and combined for all 151 yards of offense.
Hackenberg ended a 17-play scoring drive, PSU’s longest of the season, with a 6-yard rush for a 14-0 lead in the second.
The Nittany Lions wasted a chance to head into halftime with a shutout on the final play of the half. The Nittany Lions were whistled for a personal foul on Scheelhaase on the final play of the half. With no time left on the clock, Illinois took advantage, and Taylor Zalewski kicked a 20-yard field goal to make it 14-3.
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