A Look Back: Starr Lifts Indiana Over Illinois, 34-32
Oct. 7, 2006
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Marcus Thigpen returned yet another kickoff for a touchdown and Austin Starr's 33-yard field goal as time expired carried Indiana past Illinois 34-32, capping an amazing comeback and spoiling the Illini's Homecoming on Oct. 7, 2006.
With the Hoosiers (3-3, 1-1 Big Ten) down 32-31 with just one second remaining in the contest, Starr lined up and booted a kick that snuck inside the left upright, more than atoning for an earlier miss in the fourth quarter that would have given the Hoosiers the lead. The field goal provided an appropriate ending to an inspired Indiana performance after the Hoosiers trailed big early.
Illinois (2-4, 1-2 Big Ten) scored on each of its first five possessions to put the Hoosiers in a 25-7 hole.
After Illini quarterback Juice Williams hooked up with Kyle Hudson for a 35-yard touchdown just 2:22 into the contest, Indiana answered with a touchdown of its own just 1:24 later. After a 21-yard run by rookie quarterback Kellen Lewis, Thigpen followed with a 44-yard run of his own to put the Hoosiers on Illinois' 11-yard line. Josiah Sears rattled off a 9-yard run to put the ball on the 2, and Lewis followed with a keeper for IU's first score. Starr's extra point tied the game at 7 just 3:46 into the game.
Illinois responded by rattling off 18 consecutive points, including a 53-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Hudson on a flea flicker with just over five minutes remaining in the first quarter.
After Jason Reda's 28-yard field goal put Indiana down 25-7 early in the second quarter, Thigpen took the ensuing kickoff on Indiana's goal line and returned it 60 yards to the Illinois 40 to jumpstart the Hoosiers' comeback. Thigpen then rushed for 2 yards and caught a 10-yard pass, and Lewis hit Ray Fisher for 18 yards to give Indiana first-and-goal from the 10. Sears then ran for 8 yards, and punched it in from the 2 on the next play to draw IU within 11 at 25-14 with 10:03 left in the half.
Indiana's defense forced Illinois into a three-and-out on its next possession, and the Hoosier offense took advantage. Lewis fueled IU's 68-yard drive by going 3-for-4 for 31 yards and ran for 18 more before Sears capped the drive with a 9-yard TD run.
Indiana would trail 25-21 at the half, but Thigpen put the Hoosiers on top right out of the locker room in the third quarter. Taking Reda's kick at the Indiana 2, Thigpen blazed his way up the field for a 98-yard touchdown on the return. The score gave Indiana its first lead of the day, and was Thigpen's third return touchdown of the season. The redshirt sophomore from Detroit, Mich., also had an 87-yard return for a touchdown against Connecticut on Sept. 23 and ran back a kick 100 yards for a score against Ball State on Sept. 9. Thigpen is the only player in school history with three touchdowns off kickoff returns in the same season.
With 2:24 remaining in the third quarter, Starr pushed Indiana's lead to six points with a 23-yard field goal that made the score 31-25 in favor of the visitors.
Illinois wasted little time regrouping, starting on its own 24 after a E.B. Halsey 23-yard kickoff return. Pierre Thomas ran for 5 yards on first down, then broke loose for a 44-yard run to get the Illini into Indiana territory. On first-and-10 from the IU 27, Illinois ran a reverse, and DaJuan Warren, a former high school quarterback, found Jody Ellis wide open in the end zone to tie the game at 31 apiece. Reda's point after put Illinois back on top.
The Hoosiers went three-and-out on the next play and were forced to punt, but Halsey fumbled on the return and Indiana recovered at the Illinois 34. Lewis' 18-yard completion to James Hardy gave Indiana first-and-10 from the 16, but the Illini defense clamped down after that, allowing just a 1-yard run by Thigpen before a pair of incomplete passes brought up fourth down. Starr lined up for the 33-yard field goal, but his kick curled just wide left, leaving the Hoosiers down one with 12:27 to play.
Neither side crossed midfield on their next three drives before an Indiana penalty at the end of an Illinois punt return gave the Illini first-and-10 from their own 49. Illinois was able to finally able to cross into Indiana territory, but the Hoosiers forced another punt, and got the ball back on their own 20 with 2:31 to play. Lewis again engineered a solid drive, completing five passes for 60 yards, including a 24-yard strike to Andrew Means. Lewis' 11-yard pass to Nick Polk gave Indiana a first down on the Illinois 15-yard line with four seconds left, and Lewis quickly spiked the ball on the ensuing play to set the stage for Starr's heroics.
Lewis finished 20-for-39 with 240 yards for the Hoosiers, while Williams was 10-for-21 with 190 yards and two touchdowns for Illinois. Thigpen finished with 197 yards on kickoff returns, 91 yards rushing and 23 receiving yards, good for 311 all-purpose yards, the fourth-best single-game mark in IU history.
Thigpen entered the game leading the nation in kickoff return average with 38.4 yards per return, and did nothing to hurt his average with nearly 200 yards on just four returns.
The Indiana win snapped a 17-game road losing streak in the Big Ten. The victory was the Hoosiers' first on the road in conference play since topping Michigan State on Nov. 10, 2001.
Indiana returns to action on Oct. 14, when it will host Iowa at noon in a contest that will air on ESPN2.
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