CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — David Reisner's 36-yard field goal cost Penn State the game Saturday at Illinois, but the list of Nittany Lions mistakes that happened before Reisner ever lined up for the kick was long.
The Nittany Lions botched a snap on a field goal try of their own, failed to recover the second-half kickoff and were flagged for being offside on an Illinois punt that kept a touchdown drive alive.
They all added up to a 16-14 loss on a windy day at Illinois.
Penn State (6-5, 2-5) had played this type of game before, and sometimes gotten away with it, coach James Franklin said.
"We have probably been asking for this all year long the way we have been playing and it caught up to us today," he said.
Four of Penn State's five losses have been by a touchdown or less.
Saturday's loss came at the hands of a pair of unlikely heroes. Reisner is the kicker on an Illinois team (5-6, 2-5) that almost never tries field goals, and the backup quarterback, Reilly O'Toole, who seldom plays unless the starter is hurt. O'Toole came on for an ineffective Wes Lunt in the second quarter.
Reisner's game-winner with eight seconds left finished off the seven-play, 54-yard drive that O'Toole led Illinois on. It followed a 50-yard miss minutes earlier blown off course by the wind. But Illinois coach Tim Beckman gave his kicker a vote of confidence before the
"I looked him in the eye, and told him 'This is easy for you,'" Beckman said.
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw for an 18-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin to put Penn State up 7-0 early. But Hackenberg struggled the rest of the day. He finished 8-16 for 93 yards and the touchdown.
Mike Dudek had 11 catches for 115 yards for Illinois.
Penn State running back Akeel Lynch carried the ball 28 times for 137 yards and a 47-yard touchdown.
Lunt, just seven weeks removed from a broken leg, didn't look quite right in his second game back from the injury. The normally strong-armed quarterback didn't throw deep much and, when he did, didn't have the touch that made him one of the country's most dangerous quarterbacks early this season.
O'Toole, running and mostly passing short, moved Illinois' offense down the field fast. And when he hit tight end Matt LaCosse on the 1-yard, game-tying touchdown at the end of the second quarter, it erased a half of offensive frustrations.
O'Toole's fourth-quarter drive to set up the game-winning field goal was his most important.
Franklin said he decided to punt to the Illini instead of going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Penn State 41 with just under 2 minutes to play because he believed his defense could stop Illinois.
"You punt the ball, you make them go earn it," he said. "If we go for it on fourth and 1, we don't get it, everybody's in here right now talking about how stupid I am."
Illinois took the lead after its kickoff to open the half was knocked down by the wind, falling down at about the Penn State 20. Illinois' Clayton Fejdelem recovered at the Nittany Lion 28.
Franklin thought the play was a fluke, but Beckman said special teams coach Tim Salem called for the high kick with the unpredictable wind in mind.
"I hadn't seen that many times in my life," Beckman said.
Tied 7-7 at the half, the Nittany Lions had to be scratching their heads and asking, "How?"
Before O'Toole replaced Lunt on the final possession of the first half, Illinois had 45 yards of offense. Penn State had started its first three drives at its own 46 and 48 and the Illinois 49, all of them with a stiff wind at its back.
But the Nittany Lions turned those three short fields into just one score, the Hackenberg strike to Godwin halfway through the first quarter.
Illinois has one game left, next Saturday at Northwestern, to try to get a sixth win and a potential bowl trip. Penn State closes the regular season at home against Michigan State.
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