EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (WCIA) — For the first time since 2007, the Illini win on the road in a non-conference game. Illinois held on for a 31-23 victory at UConn on Saturday.
A one possession lead at UConn with less than three minutes to play and the Huskies driving wasn’t how Illinois scripted it, not when you’re favored to win by three touchdowns. But that’s when Dele Harding stepped up with an interception to all but ice the victory.
A win is a win, even if it’s ugly and it was all that and then some here in East Hartford but Illinois finds a way to get it done and end its 12-year losing streak against non-conference road teams.
“You always celebrate a win,” Lovie Smith said. “It’s too hard to get a win, and a lot of times in games like that you don’t pull them out so it takes an awful lot.”
“I mean I celebrate every win,” Oluwole Betiku said. “A win is a win, regardless of how it looks like.”
Illinois had to scratch and claw its way back after falling behind 13-0 early in the second quarter. After only putting up 34 yards of offense in the opening 15 minutes, things changed in the second quarter with the Illini scoring four times with more than 200 yards of total offense.
“We didn’t come out fast at all but guys stayed honed in, believed that we were going to win and that’s what happened,” Dele Harding said.
“I feel like it shows the character that this team has,” Josh Imatorbhebhe said. “It wasn’t pretty but at the end of the day, we did what we came here to do.”
“We did enough to win the game, there’s some things to learn from but a lot to clean up,” Smith said. “I think you’re becoming a good football team when you don’t play your best ball but find a way to win.”
They haven’t been 3-0 since that 2011 season when they started with six straight wins. They’ll have to clean up a lot on both sides of the ball before next week’s home game with Eastern Michigan.
Brandon Peters went 22-33 through the air for 225 yards and 4 touchdowns. Jakari Norwood ran for 62 yards, leading the team. Josh Imatorbhebhe caught two TD passes, Daniel Barker and Ra’Von Bonner each caught one.
Illinois moves to 2-0 on the season. They host Eastern Michigan on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.