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Illinois stuns Minnesota 27-26 on TD pass by Paddock in final minute after late QB switch for injury

Illinois wide receiver Isaiah Williams (1) scores a 46-yard touchdown as Minnesota defensive back Tyler Nubin (27) defends during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS — John Paddock has been so happy at Illinois that being a backup hasn’t bothered the sixth-year graduate transfer from Ball State.

He’ll finish his college career with quite a highlight.

Paddock relieved the injured Luke Altmyer and went 3 for 3 for 85 yards to lift Illinois from a huge hole and deliver the go-ahead 46-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Williams with 50 seconds left for a 27-26 victory over stunned Minnesota on Saturday.

“It can always happen at a moment’s notice. You never know when it’s going to hit,” Paddock said.

The Illini last left the field in frustration after their homecoming collapse against Wisconsin on Oct. 21, when the Badgers scored 18 straight points in the fourth quarter for a 25-21 win.

“I don’t want to be 4-5, but we have done so much growth in the last three games,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “Our guys feel where they’re starting to get, and we can only go up.”

Altmyer passed for a career-high three touchdowns and Williams had 13 catches for 131 yards and two scores for the Illini (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten), who had two of their three turnovers in the fourth quarter. They almost committed a fourth when Danny Striggow’s sack jarred the ball loose and forced Altmyer out. Left tackle Julian Pearl scrambled to recover it.

Facing fourth-and-11 from their 15-yard line with 1:24 left after the clock stoppage for the injury, Paddock came in cold with the drive of his life that knocked the Gophers (5-4, 3-3) out of their tie for first place in the diluted Big Ten West Division. Iowa took sole possession of the lead with the losses on Saturday by Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Paddock hit Williams for 22 yards to keep the Illini alive, found Pat Bryant for 17 yards and then called a timeout. His on-the-money heave to Williams allowed the junior wide receiver to split the safeties, sprint into the end zone — and make amends for his earlier fumble.

“Just got to make that play,” said Gophers safety Tyler Nubin, who found no consolation in his 12th career interception — with 4:04 left at the Minnesota 39 — that tied the program record.

Athan Kaliakmanis threw a career-high three touchdown passes for Minnesota, including the go-ahead 31-yard scoring strike to Daniel Jackson with 5:53 left, two plays after Williams coughed up the ball. But the Illini, who forced five punts and gave up just 69 total yards in the second half, weren’t done.

“There’s a lot of teams that are in that moment that don’t understand how much time is left on that clock,” said Bielema, who improved to 10-0 in his career against the Gophers and guided the Illini to their first three-game winning streak against Minnesota since 1993-95.

HERE’S JOHNNY

Illinois defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton, a projected top-10 NFL draft pick next year, served a first-half suspension for a targeting foul against Wisconsin. He showed up in a hurry after Jah Joyner — who had two of Minnesota’s five sacks — knocked the ball out of Altmeyer’s arm in the backfield before the Gophers recovered at the Illini 12.

Newton made a second-down run stop and sacked Kaliakmanis on third down to force Dragan Kesich’s second field goal of the game that gave the Gophers a 20-14 lead.

“I bring a lot of energy to the team,” Newton said. “I feel like from there it just changed the rest of the game.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Illinois: With resiliency a team-wide trait, plus a consistency and potency of their passing attack that stands out in the Big Ten West, the Illini are set up for a strong November with the division title still within reach with the right combination of losses by their competition. They would help themselves a lot by reversing their turnover trend.

Their minus-6 margin for the season is the second-worst in the conference, ahead of only Nebraska.

Minnesota: The Gophers are 43-6 when leading at halftime in seven seasons under coach P.J. Fleck, but two of those losses have come this year. This late collapse wasn’t nearly as blatant as the meltdown at Northwestern, but communication breakdowns by Minnesota’s otherwise-stout defense on the two second-half touchdowns by the Illini were eerily reminiscent of the blown 21-point lead on Sept. 23 that led to a 37-34 overtime loss to the Wildcats.

“We say in this program, ‘Learn from your past, create your future,'” Nubin said. “We did not do that today.”

UP NEXT

Illinois: Hosts Indiana next Saturday. The Illini have lost four straight games to the Hoosiers, tied with 1967-1970 for their longest skid in the series.

Minnesota: Visits Purdue next Saturday. The Gophers have won three of their last four road games against the Boilermakers.

Picture of Associated Press

Associated Press

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