CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Caleb Griffin kicked a 29-yard field goal in the closing seconds, giving Illinois a 30-28 victory over Toledo in the season opener for both teams on Saturday night.
Luke Altmyer threw for two touchdowns. Miles Scott returned an interception 48 yards for a score, and the Illini squeezed out the win in a back-and-forth game to start coach Bret Bielema’s third season.
Illinois led 27-19 early in the fourth quarter after Scott’s interception return and touchdown passes from Altmyer to Pat Bryant on back-to-back possessions. But instead of staying in control, the Illini had to rally again to come away with the win.
Toledo’s Luke Pawlak kicked a 44-yarder that made it a five-point game with 9:38 remaining, and quarterback Dequan Finn put the Rockets on top with 2:59 remaining when he rolled to his right for a 1-yard touchdown to put the Rockets on top 28-27.
Altmyer helped set up the winning field goal when he hit Casey Washington with a 33-yard pass to the Toledo 36 on fourth-and-4. The Illini had the ball on the 11 with eight seconds left when Griffin booted the winner.
Altmyer was 18 of 26 for 211 yards with an interception in his Illinois debut. The transfer from Mississippi also ran for 69 yards, after beating out Ball State graduate transfer John Paddock and Donovan Leary for the starting job.
Josh McCray ran for a touchdown. The Illini committed 10 penalties for 100 yards, but made enough plays to come away with the win after struggling down the stretch last year. They lost four of their final five games, a sour finish to a breakthrough, eight-win season.
Finn threw for 230 yards and two TDs. He also ran for 72 yards and a score.
Jacquez Stuart added 82 yards rushing. But the reigning MAC champions fell to 6-16 against the Big Ten. The Rockets’ most recent victory against the conference was over Purdue 2010.
Toledo: The Rockets gave Illinois all it could handle. They hope to repeat as MAC champions for the first time since they won three straight while going 35-0 from 1969 to 1971. No team has won back-to-back titles since Northern Illinois in 2011 and 2012.
Illinois: The Illini cut back on the penalties in the second half, committing just one, and came through down the stretch.
Toledo: Hosts Texas Southern on Saturday.
Illinois: Visit Kansas on Friday, their first meeting since 1968. ___