Spartans crumble late, fall to Illinois at home 37-34

Alex McRae, Football Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — The Illinois Fighting Illini entered Spartan Stadium 5-4 on the season and gaining momentum, coming off two straight wins. One against No. 16-ranked Wisconsin and the other against struggling Purdue. 

The winnings ways would continue in dramatic fashion as the Michigan State Spartans would start out white hot but allowed the weather to cool them off as the Illini roared back to tear the hearts out of the Michigan State faithful in a  37-34 win, completing the largest comeback in school history.

And coming back from a 25 point deficit with a 10-yard pass from Brandon Peters to Daniel Barker with :05 left on the clock, completing the late rally for Illinois nevertheless.

“Extremely disappointing,” said head coach Mark Dantonio after the loss.

Peters threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in the game.

The Spartans defense was strong early, even with the absence of senior linebacker and captain Joe Bachie. Both Noah Harvey and Jeslord Boateng made plays, showing the depth of the Michigan State linebacker unit.

Michigan State’s offense, led by fifth year senior Quarterback Brian Lewerke seemingly exercised some demons against the Illini defense, scoring on their first drive of the game on a one yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman Elijah Collins. 

Soon after the score, junior strong side linebacker Milo Eifler of Illinois was ejected for throwing a punch, seemingly setting a tone of chippy physical play from that point on.

Illinois would respond to the Collins touchdown with a nine play 53-yard drive which resulted in a 40 yard field goal by James McCourt to make the game 7-3 with 9:53 left in the first.

Lewerke answered the McCourt field goal with a touchdown of his own, this one for 42 yards on a run up the right sideline to give MSU a 14-3 lead with 5:39 left in the first quarter.

The turning point of the game came as time ran down in the first half. Peters got the Illini offense to the Spartan 46 of MSU before driving the ball deep to Imatorbhebhe for a 46 yard touchdown as time expired in the first half. 

And Illinois, began to show signs of life – even though it wouldn’t be for another quarter.

It’s not over till the fat lady sings, they say, and was it ever.

Illinois opened up the fourth quarter with a quick 14 points after being down 31-10 through three quarters.

But they weren’t done yet, after rattling off their longest reception of the year with an 83 yard touchdown bomb to the USC transfer Imatorbhebhe the Illini followed up the score with another Reggie Corbin touchdown with 11:06 to go in the game from six yards out.

Imatorbhebhe caught four passes for 178 yards and two scores.

Before MSU knew what was happening, it was 31-24 and they were driving at the Illinois 45 yard line and then the play that truly swung the game in the Illini’s favor happened and Sydney Brown picked off Brian Lewerke for a 76-yard score. 

That proved the difference maker as Illinois finished off the game winning drive less than five minutes later, celebrating with the fans who made the trip in the far corner of Spartan stadium as the Illini walked it off at Spartan Stadium. 

Cody White caught 7 passes for 128 yards, Elijah Collins carried the ball 28 times for 170 yards and 2 scores.

Michigan State travels to Ann Arbor next Saturday to take on the Wolverines. Kickoff is slated for noon and it can be found on 88.9 WDBM in the Greater Lansing area and on the television on FOX.

Alex McRae is a football beat reporter and co-host of Impact’s college football podcast: Spartan Redzone