The Wisconsin Badgers traveled to Champaign this Saturday to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini in an inner conference bout. Both these teams battled it out till the last second, but the Badgers were able to come out on top, beating Illinois 25-21.
In his first collegiate start, Braedyn Locke was able to take the Badgers the length of the field in the last three minutes and score a touchdown, completing the comeback after Wisconsin trailed 21-7 entering the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin got the ball to begin the game, but offensively could not get any traction going. Penalties and mental miscues really slowed their offensive production and did not let the team get into a proper rhythm.
An early Braedyn Locke fumble gave Illinois great field position and, following two big plays, Illinois was deep in Wisconsin territory.
From there, Luke Altmyer made the connection with big tight end Tanner Arkin for a touchdown, providing the Illini with an early 7-0 lead.
The following drives for the Illini were a battle with the Wisconsin defense.
The big factor early was Altmyer’s legs, rushing and escaping the pocket, which kept drives alive.
Late in the second quarter, Illinois slowly made their way down the field, relying on their run game. The drive ended with another short Altmeyer passing touchdown to tight end Tip Reiman, giving Illinois a 14-0 lead with two minutes left in the second.
Wisconsin then entered their two-minute offense where we saw a masterclass between offensive coordinator Phil Longo and Locke.
The big play on this drive came from a 32-yard pass connection on a seam route by Will Pauling. Following the big pass play, Locke connected again with C.J. Williams for a gain of 19 yards, putting the Badgers in the red zone.
Within eight plays, the Badgers went 73 yards down the field to score on a Braelon Allen touchdown run, cutting the lead to 14-7 entering the half.
Illinois was the first to score in the second, taking the ball downfield and attacking the Badgers run defense again. Running back Kaden Feagin capped off the drive with a 12-yard outside zone run for the score, walking in untouched.
The Badgers responded to that touchdown drive with a scoring drive of their own. Following a strong 30-yard run by Braelon Allen and a crucial catch by Will Pauling, the Badgers were able to get into field position for a 47-yard field goal by Nathaniel Vakos that went in after hitting the uprights.
Down 21-10 with 10 minutes to go in the fourth, it looked like it was time for the Badgers to pack their bags and leave.
But, the defense slowed down the Illinois run attack and gave the ball back to their offense twice in that 10-minute span.
Offensive coordinator Phil Longo allowed his young, inexperienced quarterback to display his throwing ability, marching down the field, and capping off the drive with a spectacular 20-yard touchdown grab by Will Pauling.
Their next drive was much more methodical and gutsy.
Down three points with just over three minutes to go, Wisconsin was looking to take the ball down the field and score, as they trailed by a field goal. A healthy mix of quick passes and runs put the Badgers in field goal range, before a great throw by Braeydn Locke to Skylar Bell on a slot fade put the Badgers at the Illinois 5-yard line.
Illinois fought back by defending two run plays that put the Badgers at the two-yard line. On 3rd & Goal with 30 seconds left in the game, however, Locke threw a dime to backup tackle and younger brother of Hayden Rucci, Nolan Rucci, for the score on a play-action pass.
With seconds left in the game, the Badgers defense was able to hold off any Illinois comeback to take home the win 25-21, providing Locke with the victory in his first career start.