Illinois tops Kent St. 31-24, extends home-opener win streak
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) _ Illinois defeated Kent State 31-24 on Saturday to extend its home-opener win streak to 21 games, the fourth-longest in the nation.
But the win didn’t come easily for an Illinois team expected to easily turn around a 2-10 season from last year.
Following a lackluster first half, Illinois quarterback AJ Bush showed why offensive coordinator Rod Smith called him a “dynamic, dual threat.” Bush passed for 190 yards on 23 attempts, and rushed for 139 yards on 21 carries.
Reggie Corbin carried 10 times for 79 yards and two touchdowns for the Illini (1-0), while Mike Esptein and RaVon Bonner added rushing touchdowns.
Woody Barrett, announced by first-year Kent State coach Sean Lewis as the starting quarterback at game time, was 28-of-41 passing for 270 yards and two touchdowns. He threw an interception late when Illinois linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips picked off a short pass into the end zone that would have tied it with less three minutes remaining.
Barrett and sophomore Dustin Crum had battled for the starting spot since spring.
Barrett also was the leading rusher for the Golden Flashes with 18 carries for 117 yards and one touchdown.
Mike Carrigan rushed for 62 yards on eight carries and a touchdown for Kent State (0-1).
Before the game, Illinois announced the indefinite suspension of five players, including three starters: safety Bennett Williams, cornerback Nate Hobbs and tight end Lou Dorsey. Wideout Carmoni Green and defensive tackle Deon Pate also were suspended. No explanation was immediately given.
Illlinois was expected to cruise to victory over a Kent State team picked by most to finish last in the Mid-American Conference. But Smith’s offense didn’t awaken until midway through the third quarter, finally bringing the crowd to its feet as it struck twice in less than three minutes to tie the game at 24.
Following a quick eight-play, 75-yard drive by Kent State that resulted in a touchdown, Corbin scored on a 1-yard carry to cap an eight-play, 55-yard drive that put Illinois up for good.
Illinois: Hosts Western Illinois on Saturday.
Kent State: Hosts Howard on Saturday.