STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Casey Washington caught a 2-point conversion pass from Brandon Peters to end the first nine-overtime game in NCAA history and lift Illinois over No. 7 Penn State 20-18 Saturday.
The teams were tied at 10 after regulation, exchanged field goals in the first two overtimes, then began to alternate 2-point attempts in the third OT as part of a format tweaked ahead of the 2021 season.
Neither team converted until the eighth overtime, when Isaiah Williams ran one in to put Illinois up 18-16. Penn State’s Noah Cain kept the game alive with a 2-point run of his own.
In the ninth OT, Sean Clifford’s pass to Parker Washington was broken up by linebacker Khalan Tolson. Peters then found Washington near the back of the end zone for the winning completion.
The 2-point conversion shootout started in 2019, the season after LSU and Texas A&M played a seven overtime game that left both teams badly beaten up. The rule was tweaked this year, with the 2-point conversion possessions beginning with the third overtime instead of the fifth.
Chase Brown and Josh McCray combined for 365 rushing yards and a touchdown and James McCourt kicked three field goals, including 39- and 32-yarders in overtime, to snap Illinois’ three-game skid to Penn State.
The two bullish backs blasted through wide-open holes and flanked Penn State’s defense again and again on a soggy day at Beaver Stadium. The Illini (3-5, 2-3 Big Ten) outgained the Nittany Lions 370 yards to 207 in regulation and battled back from an early 10-0 deficit.
Peters, normally Illinois’ starter, came off the bench when Artur Sitkowski hurt his left hand in the sixth overtime period.
KeAndre Lambert-Smith caught a touchdown pass and Jordan Stout added three field goals for the Nittany Lions (5-2, 2-2) who ran for just 62 yards and struggled to protect ailing Clifford.
Led by Brown’s 229 total yards, the Illini tied it 10-10 early in the fourth quarter with a 37-yard field goal from McCourt.
A sloppy fourth quarter gave way to overtime where McCourt and Stout matched each other on field goals before a string of goal line standoffs pushed the game into unprecedented territory.
Clifford suffered an unspecified injury on Oct. 9 at Iowa and didn’t finish that game. He handled a light workload early Saturday.
The third-year starter attempted just nine passes in the first half and was slow to get to his feet after taking a sack on his first series. After two lackluster possessions and just 15 yards on seven plays, Clifford was able to rally his offense on its third try.
Working quickly, Clifford completed two straight passes downfield to top target Jahan Dotson, then fired a bullet to slanting KeAndre Lambert-Smith for a 42-yard touchdown.
The Nittany Lions’ defense helped out moments later when linebacker Brandon Smith blasted Sitkowski. The backup quarterback fumbled to D’Von Ellies.
Penn State settled for a 35-yard field goal from Stout when the offense stalled at the Illinois 17. Stout’s kick made it 10-0 with 11:42 to play in the second quarter.
Illinois’ rushing offense, which racked up 165 yards in the first half, picked up the pace.
Led by Brown and McCray, the Illini ran the ball 12 times on a 15-play drive that ended when Brown bulled into the end zone from a yard out and cut Penn State’s lead to 10-7.
Illinois continued to control the pace with its running game, and turned a 16-play, 70-yard drive into a tying field goal from McCourt.
Illinois: The Illini were in it from the opening whistle. They used seven-man fronts and the hard-charging abilities of McCray and Brown to outmuscle Penn State’s defense nearly all day.
Penn State: Getting Clifford back perhaps sooner than they thought was great news for the Nittany Lions, especially since their running game is virtually nonexistent and they’ll need all the offense they can get with games at No. 5 Ohio State, vs. No. 6 Michigan and at No. 9 Michigan State coming up.
Illinois: Hosts Rutgers.
Penn State: Visits No. 5 Ohio State.