EAST LANSING, MICH. — Illinois was down by 25 points at one point in the firs thalf and by 21 points entering the fourth quarter.
It didn't matter.
Quarterback Brandon Peters led the offense, the defense recorded takeaways, and the Illini mounted the biggest comeback in program history to beat Michigan State 37-34 on Saturday at Spartan Stadium to clinch the first bowl berth since 2014.
Peters found Daniel Barker on a five-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left in the game to take the first lead of the game, and it turned out to be the game-winning pass. Twice on the final drive, Peters and the Illini faced fourth down and twice they converted.
Michigan State hits field goal
Spartans kicker Matt Coghlin hit a 46-yard field goal to give Michigan State a four-point lead, 34-30, with 3:17 left in the game.
Illinois needs a touchdown to win, to clinch a bowl and to complete a wild comeback. The Illini trailed by 25 points at one point in the first half and by 21 points to begin the fourth quarter.
Illinois climbs (almost) all the way back
Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke threw the ball directly into the waiting arms of safety Sydney Brown, who returned the interception 76 yards for a touchdown. Kicker James McCourt missed the extra point, and Illinois trails 31-30 with 4:53 left in the game.
Illinois trailed by 25 points at one point in the first half.
One-score game in the fourth
Brandon Peters is hitting his grove and Illinois, after trailing by 25 points, is back within seven points after a seven-yard rushing touchdown by Reggie Corbin.
Michigan State leads 31-24 with 11:06 left in the game.
Imatorbhebhe ... again
Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters found receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe for an 83-yard catch and run for a touchdown to give the Illini much-needed life in the fourth quarter.
Michigan State leads 31-17 with 14:48 left in the game, but it was Imatorbhebhe's second touchdown catch of the day.
Almost a turnover, but Spartans get a field goal
Michigan State quarterback Brandon Lewerke appeared to have fumbled the ball at the Illinois 1-yard line, but the ruling on the field was overturned. Michigan State settled for a 24-yard field goal after easily moving down the field, appearing primed to score.
The Spartans lead 31-10 with 10:59 left in the third.
Illinois finally gets touchdown
After Sydney Brown intercepted Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke on a pass that was tipped by Khalan Tolson, Illinois went 81 yards to score a touchdown just before halftime.
Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters bought time and found Josh Imatorbhebhe on a 46-yard pass in the end zone. Michigan State leads 28-10 at halftime and gets the ball to start the third quarter.
The Spartans outgained Illinois 336-176 in the first half, but Illinois came up with a pair of interceptions late in the second quarter to prevent any more points from going on the board.
The bad gets worse
Illinois tight end Justice Williams fumbled the kickoff and the Spartans recovered at the Illinois 21-yard line. Three plays later, Elijah Collins ran in a touchdown from six yards out to expand the lead even more.
The Spartans lead 28-3 with 11:24 left in the first half.
Another touchdown for Spartans
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Brian Lewerke found Tre Mosley wide open in the middle of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown pass to extend the Spartans' lead to 21-3 with 12:41 left in the second quarter.
Michigan State picked up a crucial fourth down on its own 42-yard line to keep the drive alive. It has out-gained Illinois 219-65 so far in the first half.
Big QB run extends Michigan State's lead
Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke extended Michigan State's lead with a 42-yard quarterback keeper down the right sideline. It was a quick four-play, 75-yard drive in 1 minute, 31 seconds. Michigan State had two plays of more than 20 yards: Lewerke's run and a 21-yard pass from Lewerke to Cody White on the play before the touchdown run.
The Spartans leads 14-3 with 5:39 left in the first quarter.
McCourt hits 40-yarder
Illinois got points on a 40-yard field goal by kicker James McCourt. The Illini went 53 yards on nine plays before stalling out on third down. Quarterback Brandon Peters delivered a dime to tight end Justice Williams on third-and-5 to extend the drive for a 33-yard gain.
Williams' diving catch was a career-long reception.
Michigan State leads 7-3 with 7:10 left in the first quarter.
Spartans score first, Eifler ejected
Michigan State scored first on a 10-play, 78-yard drive that was capped off by Elijah Collins' 1-yard touchdown run. On the touchdown-scoring run, Illinois linebacker Milo Eifler was ejected for throwing a punch.
Illinois is already thin at the linebacker spot without Hansen. Eifler's ejection will test the depth at the position.
The Spartans lead 7-0 with 10:07 left in the first quarter.
QB — Brandon Peters
RB — Reggie Corbin
WR — Casey Washington
WR — Donny Navarro
WR — Josh Imatorbhebhe
TE — Daniel Barker
LT — Vederian Lowe
LG — Kendrick Green
C — Doug Kramer
RG — Richie Petitbon
RT — Alex Palczewski