O’Connell rallies Boilermakers late to get past Illini 13-9

Aidan O’Connell hooked up with T.J. Sheffield on a 14-yard scoring pass with 5:44 left to play for Saturday’s only touchdown, giving Purdue a 13-9 victory over rival Illinois.

Posted: Sep 25, 2021 8:03 PM
Updated: Sep 25, 2021 8:21 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Aidan O’Connell hooked up with T.J. Sheffield on a 14-yard scoring pass with 5:44 left to play for Saturday’s only touchdown, giving Purdue a 13-9 victory over rival Illinois.

The Boilermakers (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) rebounded from their only loss of the season by claiming the Cannon Trophy for the second straight year.

Illinois (1-4, 1-2) has lost four in a row since beating Nebraska in the season opener.

O’Connell replaced starter Jack Plummer in the third quarter and immediately gave the Boilermakers’ short-handed offense a spark although his first two series ended with interceptions. He then led Purdue on a 94-yard scoring drive — its longest of the season — to retake the lead.

Purdue’s defense closed it out by forcing a turnover on downs in its own red zone.

Jeff McCort made three field goals for Illinois, the third a 45-yarder 9 seconds into the fourth quarter for a 9-6 lead. But the Illini defense couldn’t protect the lead.

THE TAKEAWAY

Illinois: Coach Bret Bielema built his reputation on a powerful ground game. In his first season at Illinois, he’s clearly trying to follow a similar script. Saturday’s strong ground game helped Illinois play keep away but it didn’t result in a victory.

Purdue: Without David Bell (concussion) and their top two running backs, the Boilermakers’ offense was depleted of playmakers and it showed. Defensively, they were tough and fast. But without more scoring punch, Purdue will struggle to win many more games.

INJURY REPORT

Illinois: After running back Chase Brown and cornerback defensive back Devon Witherspoon started the game on the bench, the Illini scratched their top defensive player, linebacker Jake Hansen, following warmups. All three have undisclosed injuries. The Illini also nearly lost starting safety Sidney Brown 5:02 into the game on a targeting call but the penalty was overturned by a replay review.

Purdue: Receivers David Bell (concussion) and Mershawn Rice (foot), cornerback Cory Trice (ankle) and running back King Doerue, Zander Horvath’s replacement, did not dress. Doerue sat out because of a non-COVID-19 health condition. The Boilermakers also lost tight end Payne Durham and defensive tackle Branson Deen in the first half.

STAT PACK

Illinois: Josh McCray had 24 carries for 156 yards and his first career 100-yard game in his first start. ... Brandon Peters was 14 of 26 with 100 yards and one fumble. ... Converted receiver Isaiah Williams led the Illini with four receptions for 21 yards. ... Illinois fell to 45-46-6 in the all-time series with Purdue.

Purdue: Quarterback Jack Plummer was 12 of 21 with 95 yards before he was pulled in the third quarter. O’Connell was 12 of 19 with 182 yards. ... The Boilermakers gained 1.5 yards per carry. ... Milton Wright caught seven passes for 88 yards, Sheffield had four receptions for 44 yards and Abdur-Rahmaan Yasseen had three catches for 77 yards — his first catches this season.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Welcomes Charlotte to Champaign next Saturday.

Purdue: Faces Minnesota in its second straight home game next Saturday.

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