for this game

Ohio State holds off Illinois for 17th straight win

Nov 4, 2006 - 11:55 PM CHAMPAIGN, Illinois (Ticker) - Ohio State briefly lost focus. Brian Robiskie's sharp vision prevented it from costing the Buckeyes.

Robiskie recovered a bouncing onside kick in the final two minutes as the top-ranked Buckeyes held on for a 17-10 Big Ten Conference victory over Illinois.

Antonio Pittman and true freshman Chris Wells each ran for a touchdown for the Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten), who extended the nation's longest winning streak to 17 games.

With Ohio State holding a 17-3 lead, star sophomore linebacker James Laurinaitis recorded his fifth interception of the season with 4:50 to go. The pick came on the first play after Heisman Trophy favorite Troy Smith was intercepted by safety Kevin Mitchell at the Illinois 35.

But the Buckeyes went three-and-out, giving the Fighting Illini a chance to come back. After two incomplete passes by Tim Brasic, true freshman starter Juice Williams - who had been yanked in the third quarter for ineffectiveness - came on and threw a 24-yard pass to tight end Jeff Cumberland.

The Illini marched down the field and pulled within 17-10 on a three-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall with 1:40 to play.

Illinois had a chance at recovering the ensuing onside kick after it eluded several Buckeyes, but Robiskie, a sophomore receiver, fell on it. The Illini got the ball back at their own 2 with four seconds left, but receiver Derrick McPhearson stepped out of bounds on a hook-and-ladder play in their own territory, ending the contest.

"I told the guys on Thursday that it's going to come down to an onside kick," Illini coach Ron Zook said. "It's a critical, critical play. When I saw the ball in the air I really thought we were going to get it, but it wasn't meant to be."

Smith completed 13-of-23 passes for just 108 yards without a touchdown. He had thrown 22 touchdowns and just two picks entering the game.

"Today's performance, offensively and defensively, was one where we have to work on things, but we got through the game," Smith said. "A win is a win, any which way you look at it. Whether you score 50 points or 17, not the way that you want to, who cares? We won today and will continue to grow."

Williams went 8-of-18 for 77 yards for Illinois (2-8, 1-5), which became the only team this season to lose to Ohio State by fewer than 17 points.

"I'm proud of our guys," Zook said. "I'm proud of the way they fought. In the first half we played tight like we were playing the No. 1 team, but we said, 'Hey, you just got to go out there and have fun,' and they did. And that's why I'm proud of them."

The Buckeyes, who entered the game leading the nation in scoring defense at 7.3 points per game, had outscored their last two opponents by a combined 88-3. Ohio State visits lowly Northwestern next week before hosting second-ranked Michigan on November 18.

"It's a Big Ten victory on the road. That's huge," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. "We always talk about the idea that championships are won with tough wins on the road when you play in a conference like ours. Obviously we've got to get better but we said the same thing when the game is 44-3. They need to keep their heads up. They're undefeated in the Big Ten conference. That's pretty good."

Wells capped Ohio State's 14-play, 80-yard opening drive with a two-yard TD run on 4th-and-1.

With two minutes to go in the first quarter, Buckeyes defensive end Lawrence Wilson forced a fumble on McPhearson and linebacker Curtis Terry recovered, setting up Pittman's one-yard run early in the second period. Freshman kicker Aaron Pettrey's 50-yard field goal made it 17-0 entering the break.

Jason Reda got Illinois on the board with a 27-yard field goal with 8:54 to play.

The Buckeyes held the ball for 12 more minutes than the Illini but were outgained, 233-224.

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