Illini Defeat Ball State In Football Home Opener
The Illini football team made their home opener more exciting than fans might have wanted, beating Ball State 24-21 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Saturday.
Illinois needed a dramatic punt return from Mike Dudek to launch a final, come-from-behind scoring drive with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
After sitting out for two years with injuries, Dudek was delighted to oblige, although he would have preferred to beat the Ball State secondary to the goal line.
"I knew that those were the faster guys, so I knew I just had to get up and get out", said Dudek. "So I shot forward and headed towards the sidelines. They had a few guys cut me off, so I cut back, and tried to score, I thought I was going to score. But they ended up coming back and making a good play."
A Mike Epstein dive for a touchdown, followed by a Chayce Crouch two-point conversion, capped that drive, and gave Illinois the final margin.
Jamal Milan sealed the win moments later. He blocked a would-be tying field goal from Ball State's Morgan Hagee as time expired.
Milan said special teams coach Bob Ligashesky knew just how the play would unfold.
"Coach Lig tells us all the time when we go on a field goal block, the farther it is, the lower it'll be, and the kicker tends to kick it towards the "B" gap a lot", said Milan. "That right there, we just need to execute, just getting off the ball and getting our arms up. I'm just happy that I did what Coach said, and I got the result I wanted".
Crouch completed 10 passes on 19 attempts for the Illini. He was intercepted once.
Epstein led Illinois with 54 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Dudek accounted for the other Illini touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Crouch in the first quarter. He finished with 47 receiving yards, one yard behind team leader Malik Turner.
The Illini return to action next Saturday night at home against Western Kentucky.