Michigan was in control for most of the game before the Illinois rally. After Illinois scored first, Michigan ran off 20 unanswered points to take a commanding 20-7 lead into the half. The third quarter saw the Wolverines extend their lead to 27-7 after a one-yard touchdown run by running back Anthony Thomas (Winnfield, La./Winnfield HS).
But then Illinois' comeback began as the Illini rallied to take a 35-27 lead with 0:59 remaining in the game. Michigan scored its final two points on safety after a Wolverine pass was intercepted at the two-yard line, then fumbled and recovered by Illinois in its own end zone.
Michigan held possession to start the game after Illinois won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. The Wolverines utilized a ball-control offense but were forced to punt on their first possession. The Fighting Illini did much of the same on their first drive and were also forced to punt.
After Michigan's second drive went unsuccessful, Illinois scored first on a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kurt Kittner to running back Jameel Cook. The five-play, 50-yard drive was highlighted by Kittner's 33-yard completion to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd.
The Wolverine attack came back fast, marching down the field on a nine-play, 80-yard drive, capped by Marquise Walker's (Syracuse, N.Y./Henniger HS) first career touchdown reception, on a six-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady (San Mateo, Calif./Serra HS). Key plays included a 15-yard pass interference penalty that gave Michigan possession inside the Illinois 30, and a 26-yard run by Thomas.
In the second quarter, the Wolverines took their first lead when Brady found wide receiver Marcus Knight (Sylacauga, Ala./Comer HS) in the end zone for a 31-yard strike, putting Michigan ahead 14-7. On the completion, Brady became just the seventh player in Michigan history to throw for 4,000 yards. Brady was 5-of-5 for 91 yards on the possession. With the touchdown grab, Knight increased his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown to three.
On their next possession, the Wolverines marched down the field once again on a three-play, 40-yard drive. Thomas took a handoff from quarterback Drew Henson (Brighton, Mich./Brighton HS) and rumbled 25 yards, breaking tackles and diving into the end zone. Placekicker Jeff Del Verne's (Sylvania, Ohio/St. John's HS) extra-point attempt was blocked, and the score remained 20-7.
In the third quarter, Michigan embarked on a clock-consuming 15-play, 88-yard touchdown drive. The drive took 6:01 and featured strong running by Thomas and controlled passing from Brady. Thomas capped off the drive with a one-yard run into the end zone as U-M increased its lead to 27-7.
Illinois followed up with a nine-play, 80-yard drive to cut the Michigan lead to 27-14. The Fighting Illini took possession at their own 20, and Kittner moved the team downfield, highlighted by a 27-yard completion to tight end Brian Hodges. The drive was capped off on Kittner's 31-yard touchdown pass to Walter Young.
On Illinois' first possession of the fourth quarter, Illinois embarked on a clock-consuming drive of its own, capped off by a three-yard touchdown pass to Hodges from Kittner with 6:25 remaining. Illinois ran 17 plays for 77 yards, using 7:11 of the clock to make it a 27-21 game.
Following a Michigan punt, Illinois went on a quick three-play, 65-yard drive to take its first lead, 28-27 with 2:42 remaining. The drive started at the Illinois 35-yard line, and on third-and-four, Kittner completed a pass to running back Rocky Harvey in the open field, and he escaped the defenders for a 59-yard touchdown.
Michigan started at its own 20-yard line, and Brady connected on 4-of-5 passes to move the Wolverines to the Illinois 28. But on second-and-five from shotgun formation, the snap went over Brady's head for a loss of 25 yards, and two plays later, Michigan turned the ball over on an interception, which appeared to sew up victory for Illinois.
But two plays after the turnover, Illinois scored on a 54-yard run by Harvey, who started right and cut back left on his way to the end zone. The PAT was good, and Michigan trailed by eight, 35-27, with 59 seconds remaining and one final opportunity.
Brady quickly led the team down the field, completing sideline passes to preserve the game clock. He had two completions each to David Terrell (Richmond, Va./Huguenot HS) and DiAllo Johnson (Detroit, Mich./Orchard Lake St Mary's HS) to move the ball inside the Illinois 20. But the potential game-tying drive ended on an interception near the goal line by Illinois' Tony Francis, whose fumble was recovered by Illinois for a safety.
Illinois kicked off, and with nine seconds remaining, Michigan had one last opportunity to win the game, but a final pass from Brady fell incomplete.
Michigan's offense was led by Thomas and Knight. Thomas ran for 128 yards on 21 attempts and two touchdowns. Knight had seven receptions for 134 yards and one touchdown. Brady was 23-of-38 passing for 307 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
On defense, U-M was led by linebacker Dhani Jones (Potomac, Md./Winston Churchill HS), cornerback James Whitley (Norfolk, Va./Norview HS), and safety Tommy Hendricks (Houston, Texas/Eisenhower HS). Jones led the team with nine tackles, and Whitley and Hendricks each added eight tackles.
Illinois' Kittner finished 24-of-33 passing for 280 yards and four touchdowns, while Harvey carried the ball 17 times for 106 yards and scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving). On defense, linebacker Danny Clark had a game-high 12 tackles (three for a loss) and one sack.
The Wolverines will travel to Indiana next Saturday (Oct. 30) to take on the Hoosiers.
Contact: David Ablauf, Jim Schneider (734) 763-4423