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Cincinnati stunned by Illinois, 45-7
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Midway through the third quarter Saturday, Cincinnati was down two touchdowns to Illinois and watching the game slip away.
As thoughts of a comeback faded on a third-down incompletion, the Bearcats (1-1) lost much more.
Quarterback Munchie Legaux crumpled to the turf after taking a pair of hard hits as he released the ball. One of those hits, from defensive end Tim Kynard, was low, bending Legaux's left leg in an unnatural fashion that left Legaux lying on the turf for several minutes. Teammates gathered in a semicircle around the senior quarterback before he was eventually carted off the field and taken to a local hospital.
The 45-17 defeat was almost an afterthought in the Cincinnati locker room.
"It was just a horrible, horrible, horrible scene, watching him squirm around," linebacker Greg Blair said. "I grabbed his hand and I just said a prayer for him."
Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville, who later visited Legaux in the hospital, said he knew little about the injury, but "it doesn't look good."
Illinois coach Tim Beckman was among the first people to reach Legaux.
"It was definitely one of those injuries that you know you've seen, on (former Redskins quarterback Joe) Theismann and those types of injuries," Beckman said. "So I wanted to get out there to him as quickly as I could."
Cincinnati spokesman Ryan Koslen later said Legaux would be hospitalized overnight and his family was on the way from Louisiana. Legaux was "in good spirits," Koslen said.
Legaux was 17 of 31 for 237 yards and a touchdown when he left the game with the Bearcats down 31-17 with just over nine minutes to play. Brendon Kay took over at quarterback, but Cincinnati never again looked like a threat.
A week after coughing up what had been a comfortable 18-point lead and just hanging on against Southern Illinois, the game was starting to feel uncomfortably familiar for the Illini late in the second quarter and early in the third. And Legaux was largely to blame.
The 21-0 lead they opened in the first half turned into 21-7 near the end of the half when Legaux hit Max Morrison with a pass from the Illinois 1. The quarterback passed for 25 yards and ran for 39 in what was 69-yard drive.
The momentum, Illinois' friend for most of the first 30 minutes, now belonged to the Bearcats.
A field goal by Tony Miliano shaved Illinois' lead to 21-10 with 11:02 to play in the third quarter.
Just over three minutes later, Cincinnati appeared ready to strike again. With a fourth-and-goal at the Illini 1, Legaux rolled left and barreled toward a hole at the goal line. Earnest Thomas and Mike Svetina closed that gap in a hurry, hitting the 6-5, 200-pound Legaux hard at the goal line. The quarterback appeared to perhaps just get a piece of the ball over the line.
Officials on the field signaled a touchdown, but the review booth caught what was apparently missed by many in the stadium: Thomas' jarring hit popped the ball free and forward. Bearcat receiver Chris Moore recovered it but, according to the rules, the only Cincinnati player who could recover it was the man who fumbled it, Legaux.
"I didn't think it was in," Beckman said. "I was gonna' challenge it if it wasn't reviewed."
Just like that, a Bearcat touchdown that would have cut the lead to four became Illinois' ball at its own 1.
Two plays later the Bearcats thought they had the ball back when Illini running back Donovonn Young appeared to lose it to linebacker Nick Temple the Illinois 11. Instead the play led to another review and another break for the Illini. Young, according to the review, was down before the ball came out.
The deflated Bearcat defense then watched the Illini drive 99 yards the first 99-yard drive for the Illini since 1971 to go up 28-10. Hull tucked the ball just inside the pylon for the score.
"That was huge," Scheelhaase said, talking about the drive. "Our defense getting the stop down there, that was huge."
Illinois also ran the ball effectively, piling up 210 yards on 39 carries. Five players had at least 24 rushing yards, and none had more than Young's 64 yards on 14 carries. A handful of big runs came on misdirection plays that got Illinois' receivers into the running game and threw the Bearcats, Blair said.
"That was probably one of the worst undisciplined games we've had since I've been here," the senior linebacker said.
A year after his worst season in college football, Scheelhaase seems reborn working with first-year offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
The senior quarterback had as many passing touchdowns Saturday as he had all of last season, a 2-10 nightmare that included a winless Big Ten season.
On Saturday, Scheelhaase had what would have been a career day, if only he hadn't had one of those just a week earlier, throwing for 416 yards and three touchdowns against Southern Illinois.
Cubit didn't hold back in his praise.
"I'm around one of the greatest kids I ever coached," he said. "Just to see him throw the ball. A lot of people just say he can't throw and I think he's done a pretty good job."
Illinois takes on Washington next Saturday in Chicago while the Bearcats host Northwestern State.
Photo: Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville watches from the sideline during the first half of their NCAA football game against Illinois on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)