CHICAGO – Illinois fan Brian Lee bought Northwestern season tickets this year just so he’d have access to the historic game at Wrigley Field, then shelled out $150 a piece for two seats in the east end zone. Oops.
“It’s a great venue,” Lee said as he watched Illinois warm up in the end zone before the game Saturday, the best look he got at the Illini offense in its 48-27 victory over Northwestern. “It just would be nice to see some action coming in this direction.”
Billy goats, black cats, Bartman and now the forbidden end zone. With Wrigley Field playing host to its first football game in 40 years, something wacky was bound to happen. And no, painting the famed Chicago Cubs marquee purple doesn’t suffice.
Despite months of planning for the Wrigleyville Classic, Big Ten officials announced Friday –less than 36 hours before kickoff –that the schools had agreed to run all offensive plays toward the west end zone because of safety concerns. Turns out, the Friendly Confines were a little too cozy, with the east end zone hugging the brick wall in right field so tightly there wasn’t even room for a standard goal post.
Back when the Chicago Bears called Wrigley home, the field was laid out north-to-south. But there wasn’t much room then, either, and it’s even more snug now that the Cubs have added seats along the first- and third-base lines to baseball’s second-oldest stadium.
“I really don’t think it changed the game. It didn’t feel like it,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “After seeing it in practice, the right move was to go west the whole game. I think it worked out fine.”
Mikel Leshoure ran for a school-record 330 yards and two touchdowns to lead Illinois’ 48-27 victory over Northwestern.
Leshoure was simply spectacular. His 330 yards were the most in the nation this season and eclipsed the previous school record of 315 set by Robert Holcombe in 1996. It included 4-yard and 1-yard touchdown runs on the first two possessions plus a 70-yard run in the first quarter.
Illinois (6-5, 4-4) finished with 559 yards, 519 on the ground.
Northwestern fell to 7-4, 3-4.