WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Somebody had to win.
After a lengthy deadlock, Illinois made enough plays late to get by Purdue and end its 20-game conference losing skid. Taylor Zalewski made two field goals in the fourth quarter to help the Fighting Illini defeat the Boilermakers, 20-16, on Saturday afternoon.
Illinois had allowed a combined 112 points in its previous two games, losses to Indiana and Ohio State. Aside from a seven-point loss to Penn State on Nov. 2, its defeats during the streak were by at least 17 points. So it didn't matter that Purdue (1-10, 0-7) entered the game on an eight-game losing skid. Loud music, loud cheers and some tears created a vibe in Illinois' locker room that players said hadn't existed all season. The Fighting Illini (4-7, 1-6 Big Ten) snapped a six-game losing streak and eased a bit of the pressure on Illinois coach Tim Beckman.
"To see the kids feel a little emotion after a victory, that's what athletics is about," Beckman said. "That's what football is about. It's not about me, or anybody else, it's about these players, and the monkey's off their back."
Steve Hull caught a career-high 10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns, Nathan Scheelhaase completed 24 of 30 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns and Josh Ferguson ran for a career-high 115 yards for Illinois.
"It was a fight, and we knew it was going to be," Scheelhaase said. "Obviously, they probably circled this one on their schedule as one they could get. It was kind of a slugfest early there for a while. Honestly, we didn't make as many plays as we needed to on offense, but our defense just did a great job of stopping them."