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Ball carries No. 15 Wisconsin past Illinois

Nov 19, 2011 - 10:25 PM Champaign, IL (Sports Network) - Montee Ball carried the ball 38 times for 224 yards and two touchdowns as the 15th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers overcame a sluggish start to defeat the Illinois Fighting Illini, 28-17.

Ball's second rushing score gave him 30 total touchdowns on the season as he became just the fifth player in FBS history to surpass the 30-touchdown plateau.

Ball also had a five-yard TD catch for the Badgers (9-2, 5-2 Big Ten), who can represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten championship game with a win over Penn State next Saturday.

"I've never had a running back compete in practice as hard as he does," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said of Ball. "That's why the games slow down for him, as easy as they are. He works his tail off every day of the week."

Russell Wilson completed 10-of-13 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, while Nick Toon caught six balls for 67 yards in the win.

Nathan Scheelhaase connected on 15-of-19 throws for 99 yards and an interception for Illinois (6-5, 2-5), which has lost five straight since winning its first six games.

Reilly O'Toole also saw time at quarterback for Illinois and had 53 yards and two interceptions on 7-of-12 passing.

Donovonn Young had eight carries for 43 yards and two scores in the loss.

The Illini took a convincing 17-7 lead at halftime, but four second-half turnovers led to their demise.

"All right, (it was a) tale of two teams out there; tale of two halves," Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. "I told them at halftime, you know, we've got to continue to play the same way. We obviously went out there and, as soon as we turned it over the first time on offense, then it seems like they began to think and we went back into the old mood."

While fighting for a first down on a 3rd-and-5, Chris Borland stripped Darius Millines on the Illini's opening series of the second half, and Borland recovered the ball for Wisconsin at Illinois' 30-yard line.

Ball moved the chains twice on 4th-and-1 before he hauled in a five-yard swing pass for a score to make it a 17-14 game with 6:27 remaining in the third quarter.

Antoni Fenelus intercepted O'Toole on Illinois' ensuing series, but the Badgers did nothing with the turnover as they were forced to punt.

Wilson gave Wisconsin its first lead of the contest on the final play of the third quarter as he ran it in from a yard out to make it a 21-17 game. Ball set up the score with a 34-yard run down to the one-yard line.

Aaron Henry intercepted O'Toole's pass on Illinois' ensuing possession, and Ball scored from 17 yards out to give Wisconsin a 28-17 advantage with 12:12 remaining in regulation.

Shelton Johnson intercepted Scheelhaase's pass midway through the fourth quarter as the Badgers ran off the final 7:30 off the clock to preserve the win. Ball ran for 73 yards on 10 carries on the final drive.

The Illini used special teams and defense to set up the opening touchdown of the game. Justin DuVernois downed Wisconsin at its own five-yard line, and the defense forced a three-and-out as Illinois regained possession at its own 49- yard line late in the first quarter.

Instead of attempting a 48-yard field goal into the wind, Zook elected to go for it on 4th-and-14 and Scheelhaase threw a strike to A.J. Jenkins over the middle for an 18-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later, Young scampered in from 12 yards out off the right edge to give Illinois a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Whitney Mercilus forced a Wilson fumble four plays into Wisconsin's ensuing drive as Jonathan Brown picked up the ball and returned it 28 yards down to the Badgers' 36-yard line. Young plunged in from a yard out to make it a 14-0 game midway through the second quarter.

Illinois made its first mistake late in the first half when DuVernois fumbled the snap on a punt attempt as Wisconsin took over at the two-yard line. Ball ran it in from a yard out on the second play of the drive to cut the margin to 14-7 with 2:55 remaining in the second quarter.

Once again Zook passed up on a 48-yard field goal into the wind on Illinois' ensuing drive and went for it on 4th-and-2 at the Wisconsin 30-yard line. O'Toole found Jon Davis for a four-yard gain to move the chains and Derek Dimke split the uprights from 41 yards out to give Illinois a 17-7 lead at halftime.

Game Notes

Wilson has thrown at least one touchdown in 35 straight games, one shy of the NCAA record held by former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell...Ball joined Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders (39 in 1988), Boise State's Brock Forsey (32 in 2002), Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards (31 in 1998) and UCF's Kevin Smith (30 in 2007) as the only players to accumulate 30 or more touchdowns in a season...Ball has scored in 17 straight games and has had at least two touchdowns in every game this season...After surrendering 224 yards of offense to Illinois in the first half, the Badgers clamped down defensively and held the Illini to just 77 total yards in the second half.