Illinois finished its Big Ten Universities season 4-1 and in second place in the BTU West Saturday, beating Iowa 36-19 in Champaign, Ill. The game was close at halftime, but the Fighting Illini separated after intermission.
“We kind of came out slow and picked it up in the second half. We pulled away from them in the second half, but it in the first half it was pretty even. They had some hard running forwards,” said Illinois captain John Hugulet.
“I think we did definitely get it out to the wing more (in the second half). We utilized our overloads, and we started tackling better. We just started playing more offense and that led to more tries.”
Combining for three tries in the win were outside center Martin Giannetti and wing Chet Michna. Giannetti scored two, pushing his league-leading try tally to 12. Illinois’ backline has been lethal much of the season, but it couldn’t have been if it weren’t for a superb pack.
“Our backline’s good too, but I think our forwards loosen up the other team,” said Hugulet. “They run hard and kind of try to tire out the other team and we try to spin it out to the other backs and try to move it left and right on them.”
This season has been a big step up for the Illini, who had a poor DII campaign last fall. By clinching second in the West Division, they have qualified for the BTU semifinals. Coming from the depths of the Illinois LAU’s DII table to having a chance at the DI-A playoffs has been an enjoyable journey for the coachless Illini.
“It’s definitely been really exciting this whole season,” said Hugulet. “Our hard work from going into the gym and practicing, it’s all paying off and it’s pretty awesome that we’ve come this far.”