Saturday, September 6, 2014

Lunt's Career Day Leads Fighting Illini to 42-34 Victory

Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt threw for three touchdowns and Taylor Barton returned an interception for a late score to secure a comeback win over Western Kentucky Saturday, 42-34.
Lunt was 35 of 50 with one interception for the Illini (2-0).

Barton picked off Hilltopper quarterback Brandon Doughty in the fourth quarter for a 77-yard touchdown that put Illinois up 35-27.

Hilltopper running back Leon Allen finished with 118 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Doughty was 28 of 48 for 297 yards, a touchdown and the interception.

Illinois wide receiver Justin Hardee caught six balls for 110 yards and one touchdown.

The undefeated start for Illinois looks good in the standings, and Lunt had a big day.

Illinois trailed the Hilltoppers 17-17 in the second quarter and, after taking a 21-17 lead in the third quarter, gave it right back with a big turnover, a 95-yard fumble return by Western Kentucky cornerback Wonderful Terry.

The good news, aside from the win itself? An Illinois defense that hadn't forced a turnover in two-plus games dating to last season had three Saturday. All of them led to points, but none was bigger than Barton's fourth-quarter interception.

The Illini were up 28-27 with less than 11 minutes to play, but Western Kentucky had the ball at the Illinois 30-yard line and was moving the ball with ease.

Doughty looked over the middle and threw deep for a receiver, apparently never seeing Barton standing between him and his target.

Barton pulled down the pick, cut left and was quickly past the last Hilltopper for a 77-yard touchdown return and a 35-27 lead.

The Illini hadn't returned an interception for a touchdown since September 2012, early in coach Tim Beckman's first season in Champaign.

After throwing for more than 500 yards against Bowling Green a week earlier, Doughty grabbed the headlines coming into the game. But Allen was the hammer Western Kentucky used to pound down the Illini early Saturday.

Allen was the big reason the Hilltoppers were able to turn a big defensive stand late in the first quarter into a 99-yard touchdown drive that silenced the Memorial Stadium crowd, stunned Illinois and gave Western Kentucky the lead.

After holding Illinois four times inside its own 6-yard line, including the stop on fourth down at the goal line that gave them the ball, the Hilltoppers started pushing their way up field.

Allen carried the ball nine times for 36 yards and caught two passes during the 18-play, 5:58 drive. His last carry was the 1-yard touchdown run that, with the extra point, gave Western Kentucky a 10-7 lead.

A 16-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to Tyler Higbee 7 minutes later gave the Hilltoppers a 17-7 edge with 4:15 left the first half.

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