By David Mercer
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Nathan Scheelhaase had waited a long time for a day like this.
Career-high 416 yards through the air. Two early touchdown passes that staked an Illinois team, in bad need of an early win, to a comfortable lead.
But the ending was closer to a hot, muggy nightmare than any fairy tale.
With the temperature hitting 95 degrees and the heat index 108, Scheelhaase watched helplessly from the sideline in the final minute Saturday as Southern Illinois fell just short of the kind of upset Football Championship Subdivision teams such as the Salukis dream of, with Illinois holding on 42-34.
"It's gonna be a fight every time," the fifth-year senior quarterback said before refusing to attach much, if any, significance to his own big day. "Honestly, I think we'll all put it behind us and start preparing for Cincinnati." Illinois hosts the Bearcats next Saturday.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman entered the season under pressure after a 2-10 finish his first year in Champaign. He said after the game that he'd take the win but wasn't happy that his Illini let the Salukis claw their way back into the game.
"It's unacceptable, and these things have to get corrected," Beckman said. "We have to make sure these get corrected."
Southern Illinois was left to think about what could have been.
Illinois had the Salukis down 25-7 at halftime and 39-17 late in the third quarter before letting them come back.
Down 42-34, Southern Illinois quarterback Kory Faulkner drove the Salukis down the field for a final shot. With 44 seconds to play and fourth down at the Illini 3-yard line, Faulkner threw too high for leaping wideout Adam Fuehne.
"Obviously we didn't complete it, so I wish I had it back," Faulkner said. "But we work on that play a lot in practice and Fuehne is a great target and maybe four inches to the right and a little bit lower he could have timed it better."
That let Illinois, finally, run the clock out.
The Illini offense was mostly Scheelhaase. He was 28 for 36 with one interception, and his second-quarter touchdown passes to Jon Davis and Josh Ferguson built that halftime lead.
Ryan Lankford caught six passes for 115 yards and Ferguson had four for another 103 yards.