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November 17, 2012
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - For all the grinding Purdue's offense did on Saturday - to get any yards at all in the first quarter and then to earn each and every one by the fourth - its two biggest plays came without much contact.
And they were just enough to keep the Boilermakers' bowl hopes alive.
Ralph Bolden slipped through on the right side for a 63-yard run that he finished by running out of bounds after tweaking a hamstring - Purdue scored a touchdown two plays later - and Akeem Hunt didn't get touched after he hauled in a short pass and ripped off a 63-yard touchdown.
They were the separation.
Purdue still needed a first down to drain the final minutes late to beat lowly Illinois, 20-17, at Memorial Stadium.
It was a surprisingly tight game, considering the Illini entered it winless in the Big Ten and had struggled largely on offense especially.
But the Boilermakers (5-6, 2-5) did enough to get their second consecutive victory - and second one on the road.
"It was kind of a scratch and fight game," quarterback Robert Marve said. "Illinois fought very hard. I knew their defense coming in was great. We had to play strong, and we made some big plays when it counted. They bounced back strong.
"They gave us a bigger fight maybe than I expected. That's just hats off to them to keep fighting in their situation."
After managing only eight yards in the first quarter with three three-and-outs, Purdue started to generate yardage in the second but couldn't finish drives with touchdowns. It was forced to settle for a pair of field goals and a measly 6-3 halftime lead against a team that allows 31.5 points per game.
The first two drives of the second half sputtered, too, going 11 plays but only for 26 yards.
"We needed a spark," Hunt said.
He provided it.
Midway through the third quarter, Hunt entered the game for what turned out to be his only snap on offense.
Purdue lined up with an extra offensive lineman, Justin Kitchens acting as a pseudo-tight end aligned next to Trevor Foy as a tackle on the right side, on first down from the 37.
Marve got the handoff and rolled right, and the defense went with him. Hunt snuck up to the line like he was going to block but then escaped left. Marve threw back to Hunt, who had Kevin Pamphile, Rick Schmeig and Peters Drey in front of him.
Hunt raced down the left side, and Drey provided an essential block late, getting a rub on a defender trying to chase down the play, allowing Hunt to cruise into the end zone for the long TD.
"It's a play that we work on it practice, and it developed real good," Hunt said. "They rushed the D-end. I look for the end and go out and I just slipped out. Once I caught the ball, there was no one in front of me except for my blockers. It was a good sight to see.
"They say take advantage of every opportunity, so that's what I tried to do and that's what worked out for me."
The play gave Purdue a 13-3 lead, but Illinois responded quickly.
The Illini had been struggling against Purdue's defense, not managing a drive longer than 48 yards on its on first nine possessions. But it was able to scrape together a 69-yard drive that ended in a touchdown to pull within 13-10.
This time, it was Bolden's turn to provide the spark.
On first down from the 22, Purdue lined up in I formation with Kurt Freytag at fullback and Bolden behind him. Bolden got the handoff - the "38 toss" play, he said - and headed right. Ultimately, he jumped over Freytag and broke free on the right sideline.
"We saw a little something on the (defensive) end, kicked him out, I turned it up. Soon as I tried to put it in sixth gear, felt my hamstring (pop)," said Bolden, who had 93 yards on seven carries. "I just decided to hobble to get as much as I can, praying they wouldn't touch me. But they kind of caught up with me, so I thought, 'I should step out of bounds.' "
Bolden's run set Purdue up on the 15-yard line and two plays later, Akeem Shavers ran through the middle and dove for the goal line for a six-yard touchdown and a 20-10 lead.
Shavers had 99 yards on 21 carries, his highest total in Big Ten play, and he was able to grind out 24 of those yards on the final drive that helped Purdue run out the clock.
But it was the flashy, big plays that produced the victory.
"It's just showing the hard work," Bolden said. "We keep going, keep going, until something pops up and when it pops up, we just build off of that."
There's still more to be done, though.
Purdue knew it needed to win its final three games to reach six victories and bowl eligibility and it kept talking about how each week was a "one-game season."
Now, it truly is.
The Boilermakers must beat rival Indiana in the regular-season finale next week at Ross-Ade Stadium. The hated Hoosiers will have only the role of spoiler to play - their bowl hopes were dashed Saturday with a loss at Penn State.
"We've got the Bucket. It's senior day. (It's) a chance for a bowl bid. There's so much to look forward to," senior Josh Johnson said. "We're just so excited. We've got to go out there and (send) off Coach Hope as a winner and (send off) the seniors off as a winner. Our biggest thing is to get the W."
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