CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Louisiana Tech turned six Illinois turnovers and a 284-yard, four-touchdown night from quarterback Colby Cameron into a 52-24 road upset of Illinois Saturday.
Cameron's favorite target was Quinton Patton who caught six balls for 164 yards and two touchdowns for the Bulldogs.
Illinois (2-2) turned the ball over three times in the first quarter and the Bulldogs (3-0) cashed in for an early 21-7 lead.
Cameron and Patton connected on a pair of early third-quarter touchdowns that put the Bulldogs up for good, 35-17.
After missing the past two games with a sprained ankle, Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was ineffective and left the game in the first quarter. Reilly O'Toole was 19 of 25 for 120 yards in his place.
The Bulldog defense sacked Illinois' quarterbacks five times.
Illinois climbed back into the game in the second quarter, turning a 21-7 deficit to a manageable 21-17 while holding the Bulldogs to three yards of offense.
The Bulldogs doused whatever spark the Illini felt as they came out of the locker room for the third quarter. And, like everything else Louisiana Tech did, it happened fast.
On the quarter's second play Cameron hit Patton deep down the right sideline for a 78-yard touchdown and a 28-17 lead that silenced a chilly Memorial Stadium crowd. Patton caught the ball well behind cornerback Terry Hawthorne, one of Illinois' fastest players. And any helped he might have hoped for from his safeties never materialized.
After a three-and-out from Illinois and O'Toole, the Bulldogs turned in a nine-play, 73-yard drive that, it weren't for their no-huddle offense, might have chewed up four or five minutes. As it was, Cameron wrapped up the drive in well under three minutes, again finding Patton for a 21-yard touchdown.
Patton again ran by Hawthorne as he cut across the middle of the field and caught the ball near the goal line.
For all of Louisiana Tech's quick-strike offensive ability, one special teams play summed a night of mistakes for Illinois.
Trailing 35-17, the Illini forced a punt and were about to get the ball back, but the punt bounced off the back of blocker Justin Green inside his own 5-yard line and into the end zone. The Bulldogs' Antonio Mitchum fell on the ball and, at 42-17 with more than four minutes left in the third quarter, the game was over.
Illinois' first three turnovers cost the Illini dearly. All in the first quarter, they staked Louisiana Tech to a 21-7 lead.
The first, a fumble by Josh Ferguson after a big, shoulder-first hit by safety Quinn Giles, ended a 62-yard drive at the Bulldog 23 with the game still scoreless.
The second was all Scheelhaase. The junior quarterback threw the ball well in front of Ferguson, finding instead middle linebacker Solomon Randle.
Cameron then hit Patton deep over the middle, a 50-yard gain that put the Bulldogs at the Illinois 5. Two plays later, running back Tevin King squirted in from the 9. The score broke a 7-7 tie and put the Bulldogs up 14-7
The last turnover of the quarter was, for the Illini, the ugliest.
Scheelhaase ran away from heavy pressure but was caught as he headed for the sideline by linebacker Rufus Porter who punched the ball loose. Defensive end Vontarrius Dora grabbed the fumble at the Illinois 38 and returned it to the Illinois 23-yard line
King again turned the Illini mistake into points, scrambling in from the 5, hitting the goal line and losing the ball as he did.
Illinois challenged the touchdown call but, like much of what the Illini tried in the first quarter, it didn't work. Officials upheld the call.
Scheelhaase left the game after his fumble. He had been limping on the sideline since early in the first quarter and was caught easily by Porter.
Scheelhaase hadn't played since late in the opener against Western Michigan almost three weeks ago after spraining his left ankle.
O'Toole stepped in for Scheelhaase, as he had the past two weeks.
And O'Toole — along with a mistake from the Bulldogs — helped Illinois claw its way back into the game.
First Illinois turned a fumbled punt return by Craig Johnson deep in Bulldog territory into a 26-yard field goal by Taylor Zalewski to cut the gap to 21-10 with 12:14 left in the second quarter. Then O'Toole led Illinois on a methodical 13-play, 57 yard drive — overcoming a holding penalty that wiped out a 25-yard gain — that ended with a 1-yard touchdown by Donovonn Young. Illinois was back in the game, somehow down just four, 21-17, at the half.
Ferguson finished with 10 catches for 84 yards. Young led Illinois on the ground with 19 carries, 78 yards and the touchdown.
Follow David Mercer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/DavidMercerAP
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company