Champaign, Ill. — Illinois combined two touchdowns and 190 yards rushing from Josh Ferguson with the kind of desperate, second-half comeback the Illini have relied on all season to escape Texas State on Saturday, 42-35.
All three Illinois (3-1) wins this season have come after trailing in the second half.
Illinois defeated Youngstown State 28-17 and Western Kentucky 42-34.
"They've come from behind against three of the non-Power Five teams. Let's see if they can do it against the big boys," said Texas State coach Dennis Franchione. "I'm sure that gives them confidence to keep playing."
The game was delayed for almost two hours by lightning that started in the second quarter. Before the delay the game was almost all Texas State (1-2). And after, the Illini clawed back.
Texas State built a 21-6 second-quarter lead. But the Illini scored 17 fourth-quarter points to put the game away.
Wes Lunt threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns for the Illini.
Tyler Jones threw for 336 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for another score.
Texas State didn't make many mistakes Saturday. But two in the fourth quarter cost the Bobcats dearly.
Illinois trailed 28-25 and was faced with a fourth down at the Bobcats 16. Backup kicker David Reisner converted the field goal, but Texas State's David Mims knocked him down, giving Illinois an automatic first down.
Four plays later Lunt hit receiver Mike Dudek on the run in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown and a 32-28 lead with 7:42 left in the game.
Even then, Texas State wasn't done.
An Illini field goal made the lead 35-28 but the Bobcats got the ball back with three minutes left.
Jones had been on so much of the day, making all the right decisions in the Bobcats' option offense.
But on a first down at his own 39, he threw left and found no one but Illini cornerback V'Angelo Bentley. The speedy Bentley covered the 45 yards between him and the end zone in a hurry and Illinois had breathing room at 42-28.
Jones was the reason a struggling Illinois team found itself down early.
On the Bobcats' first scoring drive on a third-and-12 at the Illini 28-yard line, the sophomore quarterback turned what was about to be a big sack by linebacker Mason Monheim into a first-and-goal at the 4. Monheim sprinted through on a screen and hit Jones, but the quarterback just managed to flip the ball to running back Robert Lowe who ran for the first down.
Two plays later, Jones looked ready to hand the ball off but instead pulled up and threw to a wide-open Ben Ijah in the back of the end zone. The Bobcats were up 7-6.
On the Bobcats' next scoring drive, Jones turned a likely loss into an 8-yard run, reversing field away from three would-be tacklers. Three plays later he hit Jafus Gaines on an 11-yard scoring pass. With the extra point, Texas State was up 14-6 with 3:38 left in the first quarter.
With 13:35 left in the second quarter, officials delayed the game, sending teams to their locker rooms fans into the stadium concourses just ahead of a driving rain and lightning storm.
And after the break, the Illini offense woke up.
Ferguson finished off a quick Illinois drive with a badly needed 2-yard touchdown that pulled Illinois to within 21-13.
After the abbreviated 12-minute halftime, Illinois picked up where it left off.
First, the defense forced a three-and-out against a Bobcats offense that had been piling up yards.
Then Bentley gave the Illini terrific field position with a 40-yard punt return to the Texas State 33.
And finally, Ferguson barreled all 33 of those yards to the goal line after a short pass from Lunt, diving into the end for a touchdown that pulled the Illini back to within two points, 21-19.
The Illini went for two and failed, but after trailing by 15 — and it could have been more — they were back in the game.