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Wrigley Hosts Illinois-Northwestern Marathon

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Nov 22, 2010 5:00PM

Wanting to create a more festive, bowl game-like atmosphere surrounding their annual meeting, Northwestern and the University of Illinois played their in-state rivalry game at Wrigley Field this year for the first time since the 1920's. The stadium last hosted a college football game when DePaul and St. Lous faced off in 1938, and last saw a gridiron of any kind across the outfield when the Bears played at Wrigley until 1970. As if the hype surrounding the game at the historic ballpark was enough, the Big Ten's surprise announcement on Friday that all offensive plays would head toward the west end zone due to safety concerns with the east end zone, grabbed national headlines for the game and added to the attention on the game. When the novelty of "losers walk" wore off and the game was over, the Illini returned to Champaign with a 48-27 win.

Technically a Northwestern home game -- they even painted the Wrigley marquee Wildcat purple -- once the game began, the Illini made themselves right at home. Running back Mikel LeShoure opened the game with back-to-back runs of 30 yards or better and found his way into the end zone barely a minute into the game to give Illinois an early 7-0 lead. Following a Northwestern fumble, Leshoure added a second score to spot the Illini a 14-0 lead early on. Northwestern got a chance to score in the off-limits east end zone, when Brian Peters picked off a Nathan Scheelhaase and returned it 59 yards. When LeShoure ripped off a 70 yard run that set up another touchdown, it looked like the game was going to be a rout for the Illini as they grabbed a 21-7 lead while still in the first quarter. Northwestern answered and cut the lead to seven. After trading field goals, Northwestern drove and scored a touchdown to tie the game at 24 apiece, before an Illinois field goal just before halftime gave them the lead for good.

In the second half, Northwestern continued to have problems stopping Leshoure, who racked up an astounding, Illini record 330 yards rushing on 33 carries. Meanwhile, the Wildcats' offense sputtered and showed just how much they missed not having QB Dan Persa on the field. Persa ruptured his Achilles near the end of their upset of Iowa the week before and was lost for the season. In his place, freshman Evan Watkins completed 10 of 20 for 135 yards. Running back Mike Trumpy rushed for 129 yards, but he alone could not counter the offensive display by his counterpart in navy and orange.

And so the University of Illinois lays claim to the Land of Lincoln Trophy this year, the inaugural Allstate Wrigleyville Classic. But does that make the Illini "Chicago's Big Ten Team," as David Haugh suggests? We say no. And will this be the only game between the state's two Big Ten teams at Wrigley? Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald deferred to his athletic director when asked whether they should do this again, while Illinois' Ron Zook stated emphatically, "absolutely." As for us, we think maybe Soldier Field might make a better venue to play for state bragging rights.