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ILLINOIS STATE FOOTBALL

Watch now: Bryce Jefferson comes through with big performance in Illinois State's opener

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NORMAL — This was an opener Bryce Jefferson will look back at fondly.

Responsible for six turnovers in Illinois State’s spring season-opening loss to South Dakota, Jefferson was a totally different quarterback Saturday at Hancock Stadium.

And the result was totally different as well.

The Redbird sophomore passed for 193 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for two more scores as ISU shifted into high gear in the second half and pulled away from Butler for a 49-7 nonconference victory before a crowd of 8,148.

“It’s a big difference. That first game last year wasn’t the best,” Jefferson said. “Today, not just my play but the offense’s play in general, we came out and played hard and put up a lot of points. We did what we were supposed to do.”

The win was the 86th at ISU for Coach Brock Spack. That ties the school record originally set by Edwin Struck.

“Bryce was really accurate. I’m glad he had a good night because he’s worked really hard,” said Spack. “He’s not pressing outside the offense. He takes what the defense gives him. When Bryce scrambles, I get excited because I think something good is going to happen.”

Butler pulled within 14-7 with a 10-minute, 17-play second quarter drive. The Bulldogs converted fourth-and-goal when Bret Bushka threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jared Suchevits 3:40 before halftime.

The Redbirds countered with an 85-yard drive with Jefferson hooking up with Austin Nagel for a 44-yard scoring pass to carry a 21-7 advantage into halftime.

“The one drive the first half was a little messy,” said Spack, whose defense gave up 171 first-half yards and 134 in the second. “We had to clean some things up, and the kids responded well.”

ISU had another touchdown less than three minutes into the third quarter. Jefferson connected with Kacper Rutkiewicz for 33 yards two snaps before Jefferson went up the middle for a 5-yard score.

Getting the ball back quickly, the Redbirds were sparked by a 46-yard Kevin Brown rush and scored on a 20-yard pass from Jefferson to tight end Bryson Deming.

Braden Price recorded his second interception in his first career start with Butler inside the ISU 10-yard line.

“It’s my first start. I was getting my feet wet a little bit,” Price said. “It gives me confidence, but I have to stay humble and keep working to get better.”

On the next play, Cole Mueller charged over a huge hole on the right side and rambled 80 yards into the end zone, sidestepping the final Butler defender in his way at the 10.

“I was hoping my Achilles didn’t give out. That was the first time I got on it after surgery,” said Mueller, who missed all four spring games after tearing his Achilles’ tendon. “The line blocked amazing and helped me get out in the open.”

ISU’s final touchdown came on a 14-yard Jefferson scramble.

Mueller finished with 111 yards on eight carries, while Brown compiled 81 yards on six attempts.

The Redbirds amassed 294 of its 491 yards of total offense on the ground.

Nigel White opened the scoring with a 10-yard touchdown run, and Mueller bulled into the end zone from 1 yard out. The second of seven consecutive successful extra point kicks by Aidan Bresnahan put the score at 14-0.

“I thought it was a good effort. We played pretty well,” Spack said. “We played a lot of guys and wore them down.”

Bushka completed 15 of 26 passes for 161 yards and was intercepted three times with Clayton Isbell picking off one and Price two.

Price and linebackers Kenton Wilhoit and Jacob Bellizzi shared the team tackles lead with seven each.

Bellizzi entered in the second quarter when linebacker Shanon Reid was ejected for targeting.

ISU heads to Kalamazoo, Mich., next Saturday to face FBS program Western Michigan.


Contact Randy Reinhardt at (309) 820-3403. Follow him on Twitter: pg_reinhardt

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