It is not often when you can sense a complete sense of energy swing in a football game. This game between the 49ers and Fighting Illini was an exception. After a hard-fought first-half, the 49ers went into the locker room with a 14-10 lead. Coming out of the break, the 49ers received the second-half kickoff and would sustain a solid opening drive.
Jonathan Cruz stepped up for a routine 29-yard field goal attempt, and this is where things went south for the 49ers.
Photo creditCharles Rex Arbogast, AP
While from my vantage point it seemed as if the hold was not 100% perfect, this is still no excuse as Cruz takes misses personally and strives for perfection. After the pushed field goal, the 49er defense takes the field with what appeared to be a defeated mojo. Not saying this is the gospel truth as it might not have been, but then the Illini running back Chase Brown breaks off an 80-yard touchdown rush to turn the momentum big time in the Fighting Illini’s favor.
“Football is a game of momentum,” quarterback Chris Reynolds said following the game. It definitely rang true in this game, because the fighting Illini were able to run the ball consistently over the remainder of the game ending with them having over 300 yards on the ground.
It may seem like a cliche to say that two simple things can cause a game to be won or lost, but this is a game where the 49ers were relatively dominating for the most part, other than the run game, in the first half. It seemed glaringly obvious that there was a shift in momentum and overall attitude after this sequence of events.
The team does not want to get down on themselves, but use this to get better moving forward. “I am not discouraged, but when you have an opportunity to do something like that (beat another power five team) and you don’t, it hurts a little bit,” Reynolds added. “I’m not worried about coming out on Monday flat or anything.”
If there is one thing to commend about Chris Reynolds, is that he never quits and never gives up on himself or the team. He felt there was still a shot towards the end of that game for them to score and be able to get the ball back, however it was just not meant to be this game.
Illinois won the battle of the clock in the game. They had the ball for 34:03 in the game, whereas the 49ers only had the ball for 25:57. This played a big factor down the stretch of the game as well. “At the end of the day, when a team likes to hold the ball a lot, you have to be able to cash in on possessions,” Reynolds said. “We had opportunities in the red zone where we didn’t finish, and that is something that we have to take advantage of.”
Photo creditCharles Rex Arbogast, AP
The two 49er possessions after the missed field goal resulted in an interception and a punt. As Reynolds mentioned, they needed desperately to score in some capacity on these two drives. In the end, they could not get it done and the result is a loss, but Healy is confident that his team will shake it off and get better from this experience.
“Am I concerned about this football team; absolutely not,” Healy said after the game. “I am ridiculously proud of them. I think it is a resilient, competitive, and talented football team. I think we still haven’t played our best football.”
The 49ers would end up dropping this contest 24-14 but remain 3-2 on the season and still tied for first in the Conference-USA East division.
With all this taken into account, the 49ers are just under halfway through their 2021 season as crazy as that seems, and they will travel to Florida International to take on the Panthers in another primetime game on CBS Sports Network. The game will be at 7 pm on Friday, Oct. 8 in what will be the 49ers’ last game before their bye week.