(WCIA) –Illini Kicker James McCourt had a feeling there was going to be a game-winning kick this week. His hunch was right.
“I wrote it in my notebook that a game winner was going to come this week. For some reason, and my mom even texted me later in the week saying ‘I have a good feeling about this week’.” says McCourt. “I held on to that belief, and even in the times after the two missed kicks, I remembered what I wrote in my notebook, and I knew that this moment would come I have to deliver.”
He delivered. After missing the two pervious attempts, McCourt kicked the game-winning field goal to bring Illinois to their first win of the season. His 47-yard attempt with seven seconds left in the game brought Illinois to a 23-20 win over Rutgers.
It was also a career day for redshirt freshman Isaiah Williams who made his first-career start in an Illinois jersey. The quarterback rushed for 192 yards, and one rushing touchdown to break a program record. His 192 rushing yards were the most in a single game by and Illinois quarterback. The previous record was held by AJ Bush, who rushed for 187 yards at Nebraska in 2018.
Overall, the run game was strong for the Illini on Saturday, who put up 341 yards on the ground. Chase Brown led the runningbacks with 131 yards. Williams didn’t get the ball in the air much, but he showed up big time with a 16-yard pass to Casey Washington to put them in field goal range, moments before McCourt’s game-winning kick.
“I’m still working to get where I want to be, but it felt good to finally get that win and get out there and show what I could do. The biggest thing I think I showed was heart,” says Williams.
The Illini defense stepped up in the second half, catching three interceptions. Jake Hansen led the defense with 14 tackles, and one pick. With the score tied at 20-20 and less than two minutes left in the game, Nate Hobbs showed up with an interception, taking it 27 yards to give Illinois the ball back. Devon Witherspoon also added in a pick.
“We’re down by 10 on the road today, a lot of things were going against us. and guys just kept fighting and refused to lose, and we’ve been in that position before again,” says head coach Lovie Smith. “Last year we had Nebraska down by 14 in the second half, and they came back and beat us. So this could hopefully give us confidence going into that game.”
The Illini will travel to Lincoln on Saturday. They face Nebraska for an 11 a.m. CT kickoff.