Sep 17, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Kerby Joseph (25) tackles Maryland Terrapins tight end Corey Dyches (84) in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland rallies to beat Illinois on last-second FG

Tayon Fleet-Davis scored two touchdowns and Maryland put up 10 points in the final 2:13 to win a defensive struggle 20-17 over Illinois on Friday night in Champaign, Ill.

Fleet-Davis took a 10-yard reception into the left side of the end zone to cap an eight-play, 86-yard drive in the waning minutes, and the extra point tied the game at 17.

The Terrapins’ defense took the field and forced consecutive sacks and an intentional-grounding penalty — which not only forced Illinois to punt but gave the offense terrific field position for a game-winning drive.

Joseph Petrino hit a 32-yard field goal as time expired for Maryland (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten).

Fleet-Davis also scored a rushing touchdown and fumbled a reception in the red zone during the back-and-forth second half. Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa completed 32 of 43 passes for 350 yards and a touchdown.

Illinois had wrested control in the first minute of the fourth quarter on a wild 63-yard touchdown. Freshman running back Reggie Love III broke off a long run but had the ball stripped out. It bounced forward to wide receiver Casey Washington, who snagged it and sprinted 30 yards to the end zone to give Illinois a 17-10 lead.

In his first game back after sustaining a non-throwing shoulder injury in the first quarter of the season opener, quarterback Brandon Peters completed 10 of 26 passes for 185 yards and an interception for Illinois (1-3, 1-1). Another freshman running back, Josh McCray, led Illinois with 60 rushing yards and a TD on eight carries.

The Terrapins blocked a 26-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute of the first quarter, then opened the scoring on Petrino’s 32-yard field goal. Petrino missed wide right from the same distance on Maryland’s next possession, and Illinois responded with a 10-play, 73-yard drive to tie the score before halftime on James McCourt’s 25-yard field goal.

Maryland finally managed the game’s first touchdown drive to open the second half. Tagovailoa took a QB keeper 35 yards up the middle, helping set up Fleet-Davis’ 2-yard rushing score that gave the Terrapins a 10-3 lead.

Fleet-Davis fumbled in the red zone on the next Maryland possession, recovered by Jartavius Martin for Illinois. The Illini tied it at 10 when McCray stiff-armed and galloped his way to a 38-yard rushing touchdown.

–Field Level Media

Aug 28, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters (18) runs with the ball in the first quarter during Saturday   s game with Nebraska at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois gets Brandon Peters back, looks for ‘D’ in Maryland matchup

Illinois gets its No. 1 signal-caller back but strives to address defensive deficiencies before Maryland hits town on Friday night.

The matchup marks the Big Ten opener for Maryland.

Illinois (1-2, 1-0 Big Ten) kicked off coach Bret Bielema’s first season with a 30-22 victory over Nebraska on Aug. 28. Quarterback Brandon Peters injured his non-throwing shoulder in the first quarter of that game, but Bielema said Peters has healed and will return as the starter Friday.

“A lot of the things that we had saw (from Peters) during fall camp and even going back to last spring, through the summer, through fall camp, weren’t able to be materialized yet,” Bielema said. “He obviously has a very live arm, a lot of experience.”

Second-stringer Artur Sitkowski played well in Peters’ stead, but the Fighting Illini have struggled since beating Nebraska. They absorbed a 37-30 loss against UTSA and a 42-14 drubbing at Virginia. As a result, Illinois ranks 113th of 130 FBS teams in scoring defense (33.7 ppg).

Bielema said Virginia dominated Illinois on explosive plays, which his staff defines as runs of 12 yards or more and passes of 20 yards or more. Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong completed nine passes of at least 20 yards on his way to a stellar five-TD showing.

“We definitely have to look at how those plays happen,” Bielema said. “There were technique errors, there were mental errors, there were situations of plays that they’d given us new looks, seeing things that we hadn’t seen before, and we just (weren’t) able to identify them.”

Maryland (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten) will hit the road for the first time this season after cruising to a 62-0 victory over FCS foe Howard. Eight different players accounted for the Terrapins’ eight touchdowns Saturday, and Taulia Tagovailoa completed 22 of 27 passes for 274 yards and three scores.

The Terrapins, who also topped West Virginia 30-24 in their season opener, received 14 votes in the Associated Press poll following Week 2. But they know the schedule will only get tougher from here.

“As a team we’re excited to be 2-0,” coach Mike Locksley said. “It was great to see, with us being able to play a lot of players (vs. Howard), that the standard of playing with a high level of intensity — no matter what the score, no matter who the opponent — it was good to see that from our team.”

–Field Level Media

Aug 28, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters (18) throws a pass in the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois QB Brandon Peters named starter vs. Maryland

Illinois senior quarterback Brandon Peters, who missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, is back as the starter for the team’s upcoming game against Maryland.

Peters suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in Illinois’ season-opener against Nebraska on Aug. 28.

Artur Sitkowski replaced Peters in that game and started the past two, both losses for the Illini.

Illinois coach Bret Bielema said Monday he talked with Sitkowski on Sunday about the decision

“It wasn’t anything he did or didn’t do well,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said Monday. “He played extremely well, especially the way he first entered the game going back to the Nebraska game. … But I told him if the roles were reversed and he were the starter and was knocked out of the game and BP came in, we’d do the exact same thing 100 times over. I think honesty’s always the best policy, and that was just being real.”

Sitkowski, a transfer from Rutgers, completed 56.9 percent of his passes, throwing for 611 yards and six touchdowns against one interception.

The Illini host the Terrapins (2-0) on Friday night.

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Virginia Cavaliers wide receiver Demick Starling (17) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against William & Mary Tribe during the second half at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia chasing 2-0 start as ailing Fighting Illini visit

Virginia has won nine straight nonconference games at Scott Stadium heading into Saturday morning’s clash with an Illinois squad limping into Charlottesville, Va., after a humbling setback.

The Illini (1-1) of the Big Ten and the Cavaliers (1-0) of the ACC are meeting for the first time in the regular season. Illinois swept the only two previous meetings in the 1990 Citrus Bowl and the 1999 MicronPC.com Bowl.

Virginia opened its season with a 43-0 home thumping of FCS opponent William & Mary on Saturday night, while Illinois fell 37-30 on Saturday to UTSA in Champaign for its first loss under new coach Bret Bielema.

“This isn’t where I want to be,” Bielema said after the game, the Roadrunners’ first win against a Big Ten opponent.

UTSA never trailed as it piled up nearly 500 yards of offense (280 passing and 217 rushing). Illinois reached the red zone with a chance to tie or win on its final possession but couldn’t punch it in.

“We weren’t good enough to win today, but the worst thing that can happen from this point forward is if we don’t learn from this moment,” said Bielema, whose team opened the season with a 30-22 win against Nebraska on Aug. 28. “… Unfortunately, it sucks to go through it, but hopefully it will be a positive thing for us in the future.”

The Illini defense will be tested by a versatile Virginia offense that outgained William & Mary 545-183, with Brennan Armstrong passing for 339 yards and accounting for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing).

Of the Cavaliers’ 32 rushing attempts, 20 were by players who joined the program as quarterbacks: Armstrong, Keytaon Thompson, Iraken Armstead and Jacob Rodriguez. Thompson had a 40-yard run, Rodriguez a 24-yarder and Armstead a 20-yard pickup.

“There’s appearing to be the makings of a pretty diverse offense with a lot of different opportunities, with room to grow on the execution,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said.

Armstrong completed 21 passes to nine different receivers against the Tribe.

“It was a good little icebreaker this week,” Armstrong said. “Now we start getting to the (Power Five games) with Illinois. I’m excited to go continue to get better this next week and figure out what we need to work on.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  UTSA Roadrunners running back Sincere McCormick (3) is tackled by Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Roderick Perry II (96) in the first half of Saturday   s game at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

UT-San Antonio upends Illinois, 37-30

Frank Harris passed for one touchdown and rushed for another, Brenden Brady added two rushing touchdowns, and UT-San Antonio held on for a 37-30 win over host Illinois on Saturday night.

UTSA (1-0) never trailed and finished with a 497-412 advantage in total yards. Top running back Sincere McCormick finished with 31 carries for 117 yards for the Roadrunners, and Brady had 11 carries for 67 yards.

Artur Sitkowski completed 22 of 42 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns for Illinois (1-1). Daniel Barker hauled in two touchdown passes and Deuce Spann caught one.

Illinois closed the gap to 30-27 with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Sitkowski to Barker with 9:56 remaining.

Brady silenced the home crowd with a 33-yard touchdown run that made it 37-27 with 4:57 remaining. He burst through the line of scrimmage and sprinted into the end zone untouched.

A 32-yard field goal by Illinois kicker James McCourt cut the deficit to 37-30 with 1:55 to go. Illinois got the ball back in the final minutes but its comeback bid came up short.

UTSA led 20-14 at halftime.

The Roadrunners opened the scoring with 1:32 left in the first quarter. Harris tucked the ball and rushed 9 yards for a touchdown.

Brady increased UTSA’s lead to 14-0 with a 7-yard run early in the second quarter.

Illinois sliced the deficit to 14-7 on the next possession. Sitkowski connected with Spann for a 31-yard score.

After a field goal put UTSA ahead 17-7, Illinois tallied another touchdown through the air. Sitkowski fired a 14-yard pass to Barker to pull the Fighting Illini within 17-14.

A 28-yard field goal by Hunter Duplessis gave UTSA a 20-14 lead with 47 seconds left in the half.

The Fighting Illini pulled within 20-17 with 9:22 remaining in the third quarter. McCourt drilled a field goal from 52 yards.

UTSA responded with a 27-yard field goal, the third by Duplessis, to go ahead 23-17 with 3:19 to go in the third quarter.

McCourt hit from long distance once again, this time from 53 yards, to make it 23-20 early in the fourth quarter.

Harris completed his first touchdown pass to put UTSA on top 30-20 with 12:37 remaining. Zakhari Franklin caught the 19-yard score.

–Field Level Media

Aug 28, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters (18) throws a pass in the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois awaits word on injured QB ahead of UTSA’s visit

Illinois, looking to build on a season-opening win over Nebraska, is uncertain about the status of its quarterback looking ahead to a Saturday night meeting with UTSA in Champaign, Ill.

Senior Brandon Peters started against the Cornhuskers and went 3-for-4 for 35 yards, but he left the game with a shoulder injury. Rutgers transfer Art Sitkowski filled in admirably, connecting on 12 of 15 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns as Illinois won 30-22.

Illinois coach Bret Bielema had not yet decided earlier this week who would start for the Fighting Illini (1-0) against the Roadrunners (0-0).

“All the tests came back and anything from a long-standing injury looked negative at this point, so really it’s just about his recovery,” Bielema said. “Again, it’s on his left shoulder, his non-throwing arm. It’s really just a matter of how fast he recovers from that. Not ruling him out of this week’s game but don’t really feel that he may be in that role at this point.”

Whoever is under center will benefit from an Illinois ground game that rushed for 167 yards against Nebraska. But the Illini’s defense must make some adjustments ahead of facing another dual-threat quarterback this week.

Last week, Illinois allowed Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez to throw for 232 yards, run for 111 yards and account for two touchdowns. UTSA’s Frank Harris has a similar skill-set (2,116 career passing yards, 654 career rushing yards, 24 total touchdowns).

The Roadrunners are entering their second season under head coach Jeff Traylor. They went 7-5 last year, finishing second in Conference USA West. It marked their first winning season since 2017 and just the fourth winning campaign in the program’s first 10 years.

UTSA capped off last season with an appearance in the First Responder Bowl, the program’s second-ever bowl game. The Roadrunners lost to Louisiana 31-24 in the contest in Dallas.

This Saturday’s season opener will be the Roadrunners’ first-ever matchup against a Big Ten team. UTSA has won eight of the previous 10 opening games.

UTSA is picked to finish second in its division again this year, but Traylor is focused on results, not predictions.

“To compare us to last year has nothing to do with our culture,” Traylor said this week. “We should be a lot better. I hope I am a better version of myself than I was a year ago.”

A win over Illinois would give the Roadrunners their second win against a Power 5 conference foe, joining a 2017 triumph over Baylor. But Illinois hasn’t lost to Conference USA since falling to Louisiana Tech in the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl; Illinois is 2-0 against the league’s teams since then.

–Field Level Media

Sep 28, 2019; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost heads onto the field prior to the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois builds big lead, holds off Nebraska 30-22

Backup quarterback Artur Sitkowski threw for 124 yards and a pair of third quarter touchdowns Saturday as Illinois gave new coach Bret Bielema a win in his first game at the school, stopping Big Ten Conference foe Nebraska 30-22 in Champaign, Ill.

Sitkowski hit on 12 of 15 passes in relief of starter Brandon Peters, who left the game late in the first quarter with an apparent shoulder injury after being sacked. Mike Epstein rushed for 75 yards and a score for the Fighting Illini, who were outgained 367-326 but committed just one turnover and only three penalties.

For Nebraska, quarterback Adrian Martinez completed 16 of 32 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another 111 yards. He found Oliver Martin for a 4-yard touchdown pass score with 2:41 left to pull the Cornhuskers within a score.

Nebraska got the ball back with a minute left at its 9-yard line, but managed just one first down before giving the ball up on a fourth-and-10 incompletion from its 27.

Martinez’s with 343 all-purpose yards weren’t enough to prevent a result that will increase the pressure on embattled coach Scott Frost.

Illinois initiated the scoring with 4:07 left in the first quarter, thanks to a blunder by Nebraska punt returner Cam Taylor-Britt. After fielding Blake Hayes’ punt at the 1, Taylor-Britt backed into the end zone and downed the ball a split second before throwing it out of bounds, giving Illinois a safety.

The Cornhuskers took the lead in the second quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by Markese Stepp (followed by a missed extra-point) and Connor Culp’s 27-yard field goal, but the Illini rallied. Mike Epstein plunged in from the 1 with 2:51 remaining in the half for a 9-9 tie.

Then came another major mistake from Nebraska. Martinez was strip-sacked by Keith Randolph and Calvin Hart scooped up the fumble and raced 41 yards for a tie-breaking touchdown 37 seconds before halftime.

Illinois ran up a 30-9 lead late in the third quarter as Sitkowski found Luke Ford and Isaiah Williams for 2 and 1-yard touchdowns. Martinez drew the Cornhuskers within two scores on a 75-yard keeper with 3:48 remaining.

–Field Level Media

Nov 30, 2019; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree (97) is seen during the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Former Illinois DE Bobby Roundtree dies at 23

Former Illinois defensive end Bobby Roundtree, who was paralyzed in a 2019 swimming accident, died unexpectedly Friday at age 23.

The school confirmed his passing a news release.

“All of us with Illinois Athletics are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Bobby Roundtree,” athletic director Josh Whitman said. “From his first day on campus, Bobby was a leader. His work ethic, competitive fire, and drive for excellence set him apart. Following his tragic accident, those same qualities allowed him to tackle his new challenges with the same vigor and determination that we had seen on the football field. In so doing, he continued to bring light and inspiration to the lives of those around him — and, in fact, to so many people who had never had the pleasure of meeting him.”

Roundtree suffered a severe spinal cord injury in the accident when he went home to Florida for a visit in May 2019. He had been rehabilitating in the Tampa area, where he died.

The school did not reveal a cause of death.

He frequently posted videos to Twitter highlighting the progress in his rehabilitation sessions, with the most recent coming Monday.

“He was fine. He was not sick. He just stopped breathing,” Brenda McCarthy, who knew Roundtree through her role as executive director of the nonprofit group We Believe In Me, told The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill.

Roundtree played two seasons for the Illini, starting 20 games and earning All-Big Ten honorable mention honors in 2018.

“In the face of incredible adversity, he demonstrated he was, and always will remain, a true champion,” Whitman said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. We will support them, and our players, coaches, and staff who knew him well, as we struggle to understand this terrible news and, ultimately, look to celebrate the remarkable young leader we have lost.”

–Field Level Media