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November 4, 2006

No. 1 Ohio State gets a scare from Illinois

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The College Football Wire

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -Top-ranked Ohio State got its first scare of the season.

The Buckeyes built a 17-0 halftime lead against Illinois and overcame a ho-hum performance by its offense to hold off the stubborn Illini 17-10 Saturday.

The Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0, Big Ten) had won each of their first nine games by at least 17 points, but let this one get close, just as rival Michigan did earlier in the day against Ball State.

Rashard Mendenhall's 3-yard TD run with 1:40 to go brought Illinois within seven and after Ohio State's Brian Robiskie's recovered an onside kick by the Illini, the Buckeyes were forced to punt.

Illinois (2-8, 1-5) got the ball at its own 2 with four seconds left and 98 yards to go. The Illini completed a short pass and the receiver lateralled. But there was no miracle to be found as the Buckeyes quickly forced the play out of bounds.

Short TD runs by Chris Wells and Antonio Pittman gave the Buckeyes a halftime lead, but they couldn't add on in the final two quarters.

Illinois didn't play like a team that has lost five straight. They clamped down on the Buckeyes' running game and did a decent job of containing Troy Smith. Smith completed 13 of 23 passes for 108 yards and rushed for 37 more on 11 carries.

Trailing 17-0, the Illini moved into Ohio State territory in the fourth quarter for the first time all game, thanks to a short punt.

A 13-yard run by Mendenhall and a pass interference call on a flea-flicker gave the Illini the ball at the 11 but they had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Jason Reda.

When Kevin Mitchell intercepted Smith with just under five minutes left, the Illini had another chance but Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis intercepted it right back on the next play at the Illini 40

Illinois freshman quarterback Juice Williams, who struggled against a Buckeyes defense that was allowing just over seven points a game, was replaced late in the third quarter by Tim Brasic.

Brasic helped the Illini get the field goal, but Williams returned late in the fourth and marched his team to the Buckeyes 35 with a 24-yard pass to Jeff Cumberland. When Williams took a hard hit from Laurinaitis, he had to leave the game and Brasic was called back in

Brasic hit a 12-yarder to Cumberland that moved the ball to the 14 with just under two minutes left, setting up a 3-yard TD run by Mendenhall with 1:40 to go.

But Illinois couldn't finish off what would have been one of the biggest upsets in Big Ten history, and the Buckeyes stayed on track for a huge game with No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18 in Columbus. If Ohio State and Michigan can stay unbeaten next week, the winner of their season finale would play for the BCS national title on Jan. 8 in Arizona.

Michigan nearly blew a big lead at home Saturday and hung on to beat Ball State 34-26.

Smith was 4-of-5 for 42 yards and Pittman carried six times for 24 yards as the Buckeyes took the opening kickoff and moved methodically behind their balanced attack 80 yards on 14 plays. It looked like it would be an easy day. Chris Wells bulled into the end zone on fourth-and-1 from the 2 to make it 7-0.

But the Illini buckled down, especially against Pittman, who finished with 58 yards on 32 carries.

Ohio State's second touchdown was set up by a turnover.

When Curtis Terry recovered one by Illinois' Derrick McPhearson, who lost the ball after a reception, Ohio State had a short field at the 38 and moved in for a 14-0 lead.

Pittman broke into the end zone from one yard out at the end of the eight-play drive that included a 16-yard pass from Smith to Robiskie.

Aaron Pettrey kicked a 50-yard field goal to make it 17-0 with just less than a minute to go.

For more coverage of Ohio State, visit BuckeyeGrove.com; for more on Illinois, visit OrangeandBlueNews.com.

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