Those Were The Days - Chattanooga
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The order will be a little different this week with a Thursday night game. I'll keep this short by using acronyms.
TWTD goes up right now. Then CHTS will be next. After that, I'll finally publish the CTT from the Virginia game. Then, tomorrow night, I'll SOC for the game on Thursday. I hope we WINT.
Here's Detlef reminding us all that when we beat an FCS team to end our 18-game losing streak in 1998, the game started... poorly.
Illinois hosts Chattanooga in Thursday Night Football under the lights at Zuppke Field. There's nothing wrong with playing FCS teams to build up a winning record! I want bowl games! I am just glad Illinois beat the Mocs in the NCAA men's basketball tournament!
Today's tale recalls when the Fighting Illini deserved to play in a lower division, like relegation in European soccer.
September 12, 1998: Illinois hosted the Blue Raiders under the lights at Memorial Stadium. The fans anticipated finally celebrating a win to end the horrid, school-record 18 game losing streak. Middle Tennessee State was in its final year of Division 1-AA competition (now called FCS) before moving up to Division 1-A. Illinois could not possibly lose this game, could it?
THIS IS ILLINOIS FOOTBALL. As I listened to the game on the radio, I could not believe what I was hearing. On its opening play, Illinois threw to Josh Whitman who fumbled. MTSU settled for a field goal. Mark Hoekstra then threw a pick six for a MTSU touchdown. It was Hoekstra's seventh pick six of his career. (Anyone remember his game at Arizona in 1996?) Three minutes into the game, MTSU led 10-0!
But Illinois responded when Rocky Harvey (Chicago Dunbar) rambled 48 yards for a touchdown. Illinois kicked off, trailing 10-7, hoping the defense would get a three and out and…. Sulecio Sanford took the kickoff 99 yards to the house! Illinois now trailed 17-7 with 9:55 left in the first quarter. WTF? Fifty-five seconds later, Mark Hoekstra threw an interception. MTSU drove into UI territory and kicked a 45-yard field goal for a 20-7 lead in the first quarter!
As Hoekstra continued to be awful at quarterback in the first half (three interceptions, 4 of 13 passing), UI discovered the joys of running the football. Early in the second quarter, Harvey scored from a yard out. With 7:52 left before halftime, Steve Havard (Wheaton North) broke free for a 36-yard touchdown run, giving the beloved a 21-20 halftime lead.
On its first possession of the third quarter, Illinois scored again. Hoekstra threw a 37-yard pass over the middle to Michael Dean (Key West, Florida) down to the one-yard line. Hoesktra scored on the QB sneak. Havard then scored on a 28-yard run with 1:34 left in the third quarter, the Illini lead 35-20 and fans could dream of celebrating the big win!
Illinois cruised to a 48-20 win, causing the fans to rush the field and tear down the goal posts. Alas, the students failed to tear down the goal posts as cement reinforced them. It was a funny yet fitting metaphor for Illinois football. Mark Hoekstra, of all people, was critical. "They were going about it the wrong way. There's cement down there. You've got to go at the ends and kind of rock it." Hoekstra finished the game with four interceptions. Head Coach Ron Turner said he did not consider switching quarterbacks. He did later in the season with a true freshman named Kurt Kittner (Schaumburg).
The night belonged to the running backs. Rocky Harvey, filling in for an injured Jameel Cook, ran 24 times for 215 yards and three touchdowns. "The big rap on me in high school was that I was too small to play running back, too small to play in the Big Ten. I may be small, but my heart is big." Steve Havard added 175 yards and two touchdowns. The offensive line deserved praise, even against a weaker foe. Above all else, the Fighting Illini could talk about a win for the first time in a long time. "A win is a win," said Hoekstra. "It means a lot that the students were behind us. Especially at home."
Source: "After Horrid Start, Losing Streak Is Over" by Gary Reinmuth. Chicago Tribune: September 13, 1998.