CHAMPAIGN — Trailing 13-0 Saturday in the second quarter of its first game against a Big Ten school, Charleston Southern had a chance to strike back.
Taking the snap at his own 8-yard line, Buccaneer quarterback Briar Van Brunt broke through the middle of Illinois' defensive line and all the to the Illini 38.
But three plays later the Buccaneers were punting and, within minutes the Illini (2-1) were up by 20 and on their way to a 44-0 win. And Charleston Southern (0-3) was left still searching for its first victory of 2012.
But neither the score nor the loss itself could dampen Buccaneer coach Jay Mills' optimism after the game. The trip to Illinois, he said, provided the Buccaneers with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"Every kid that's ever played football dreamed of playing for schools like this," Mills said of Illinois. "The next best thing is playing against them."
And the game, like any an FCS school plays against an FBS school like Illinois, provides the finances that keep schools like Charleston Southern on the field. FBS scho0ols typically pay FCS opponents to play. In this case, Charleston Southern's payday was $410,000, according to Illinois officials.
"We talked about multiple things that you get from this. One is that it has provided us financial resources," Mills said, pointing out that games that are often mismatches have helped build new athletic facilities Charleston Southern opened this year.
The Buccaneers in return provided relief for an Illinois team coming off a 45-14 loss at Arizona State.
Quarterback Reilly O'Toole started Saturday for the injured Scheelhaase and was 26-31 for 333 yards and five touchdowns. And a week after giving up 510 yards, Illinois' defense held the Buccaneers' option to 125 yards and recorded the first Illinois shutout since a 2007 win over Western Illinois.
"It doesn't matter who you play, it's all about every man on defense doing their job, hustling and being accountable," defensive end Michael Buchanan said.
The Illini were missing a handful of starters who were injured, including quarterback Scheelhaase, who has missed two games with a sprained ankle.
O'Toole connected with receiver Ryan Lankford twice in the first quarter for short touchdowns that gave the Illini a 13-0 lead. Lankford finished with seven catches for 97 yards.
Charleston Southern cornerback Charles James, who like Lankford is from Florida, said the two know each other from their high school careers.
James provided the Buccaneers' defensive highlight, a second-quarter interception of O'Toole in the Charleston Southern end zone.
"(Lankford) got me on one ball but I was able to come back and get one," James said.
But the most important play of the game for the Illini might have come from freshman running back Dami Ayoola.
Facing a fourth-and-1 at the Charleston Southern 28, the 5-10, 205-pound Ayoola got the ball and quickly pushed into the center of the Buccaneer line for the first down. But no one brought him down, and Ayoola popped out of the pile stumbling but still on his feet.
He straightened himself out and sprinted to the end zone for a touchdown.
With the extra point Illinois had a 20-0 lead that, even with 2:06 left to play in the first half, looked comfortable. The Buccaneers have yet to score more than 14 points in a game this season.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman said the second and third effort that made Ayoola's run has been a part of his game since he arrived on campus.
"He runs with great passion when he runs the football. He's not a quitter," Beckman said. "He got hit by a couple guys, he kept his feet moving. Got that first down and then finished it up."
Ayoola finished with eight carries for a game-high 55 yards. His playing time was boosted by the absence of one of Illinois' starting backs, Josh Ferguson, who missed the game with a concussion.
Even with Scheelhaase out, Illinois' defense came into Saturday's game knowing it was the primary problem in last week's loss at Arizona State.
But Charleston Southern's option offense seldom troubled the Illini defense. A rotating cast of quarterbacks were a combined 5 of 14 for 29 yards, including an early interception that set up Illinois' first touchdown.
Freshman linebacker Mason Monheim intercepted Derek Hatcher deep in Buccaneer territory and returned the pass to the 7-yard line. Three plays later O'Toole hit Lankford from 4 yards out.
Charleston Southern really threatened only once.
Illinois led 13-0 midway through the second quarter when Buccaneers backup quarterback Briar Van Brunt kept the ball on the option and broke away from the Illinois defense for a 54-yard gain. V'Angelo Bentley and Justin Green caught him from behind at the Illinois 38.
But the Buccaneers' first trip into Illini territory didn't last long. Two plays that went nowhere and a penalty for having 12 players on the field left Charleston Southern with a third-and-15 at the Illini 43. Quarterback Derek Hatcher's wobbly floater was too high for Corvaughn Archie to pull down, and the Buccaneers were forced to punt.
The Illini host Louisiana Tech next Saturday, while Charleston Southern will try again for its first win against Shorter, a Division II school.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.