Illini football learning how to finish games


CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Illinois football team is finding a way to finish games. Traditionally the second half has been a problem for head coach Lovie Smith’s teams, even earlier this year with late losses to Eastern Michigan and Nebraska. That’s changed the last month and it all started against Michigan. Despite taking a loss, the Illini scored 25 unanswered second half points after getting down by 28 in the first half.

“It’s never over man until it’s the fourth quarter and we see triple zeros on the clock and that’s basically what we’ve been preaching,” Illinois senior linebacker Dele Harding said. “Halftime we bring up the guys, keep our focus, no negative thoughts at all.”

“We got a lot of older guys on the field who have never been in this position before and we know to win a game you’ve got to finish it,” Illinois junior cornerback Nate Hobbs added.

Illinois didn’t win the Michigan game but sure gained a lot of confidence from it. The effort sparked a rally and led to an upset win over No. 6 Wisconsin the following week, followed by two more wins to put the team above .500 in November for the first time since 2015.

“It has to give you confidence when you make plays, find a way to win, do something you haven’t done before,” Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said.

Illinois has three games left in the regular season and needs one more win to become bowl eligible. The first chance is Saturday at Michigan State for a 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff on FS1.

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