STATE COLLEGE — On third-and-11, Christian Hackenberg heard the play call he wanted, the one he'd studied again and again on New England Patriots' film.
Christian Hackenberg made Tom Brady's playbook his own and kept Penn State from having to go deep into overtime to win another thriller.
Hackenberg hit Kyle Carter with a 15-yard touchdown pass in OT and Ryan Keiser sealed the win with an end zone interception, lifting the Nittany Lions over Illinois 24-17 on Saturday.
A week after one of the worst losses in Penn State history, Hackenberg zipped a perfect pass over the middle to Carter for the winner.
Shades of Brady, for sure.
"It looked pretty similar to the type of windows Brady has," he said. "I'm not saying (I'm Brady). It looked pretty good and I felt confident. So I thought, what the heck?"
The Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) won their second straight home game in OT — they beat undefeated Michigan in a four-overtime thriller last month.
Bill Belton rushed for 201 yards, the first Nittany Lions running back to hit the 200-yard mark since Larry Johnson in 2002.
Belton, though, lost a fumble late in regulation that nearly cost Penn State the win. Trailing 17-14, Belton couldn't hang on to the ball as he plowed into Illinois' line at the 2 with 3:23 left.
"I shouldn't have reached the ball out," Belton said. "I was being too greedy. That was a stupid mistake and it almost cost the team."
Penn State still got one more shot, starting at Illinois' 49 thanks to an awful punt. Hackenberg failed to connect with Brandon Felder on two shots at the end zone. Sam Ficken still had enough time to kick a 35-yard field goal with 41 seconds left in regulation, tying the game at 17.
Hackenberg, who threw for 240 yards, put the Nittany Lions ahead on the first drive of OT.
Nathan Scheelhaase's first pass of OT was picked off by Keiser.
"We thought there were some holes and our guys were going to be able to beat their guys," he said. "We felt good about our receiver group and our tight end group making plays on their DBs and linebackers. Really, we did that all day."
Except on that final pass. The Illini (3-5, 0-4) lost their 18th straight Big Ten game.
Both teams were coming off blowout losses: Penn State was crushed 63-14 at Ohio State and Michigan State thumped the Illini 42-3.
Under coach Bill O'Brien, the Nittany Lions haven't lost two straight games since their 0-2 start last season.
"I don't feel fortunate," O'Brien said. "Fortunate is when you win the lottery."
Scheelhaase did his best to end that streak.
He was strong when needed on Illinois' late fourth-quarter drive. He eluded pressure on a 12-yard scramble to the 36. With Illinois facing third-and-10, Penn State called its last timeout. Scheelhaase then hit Jon Davis for a 9-yard gain and completed the drive with a 7-yard TD pass to Josh Ferguson for a 17-14 lead.
Penn State tried to pull off the comeback in much the same way as it did against Michigan. Hackenberg's sideline heave was caught by Allen Robinson for a 39-yard gain. Robinson, who caught 11 passes for 165 yards, had one foot in bounds and an incomplete call was reversed on review.
Belton then made his lone costly mistake.
"More than anything, I want to thank the defense and Sam Ficken," he said. "They basically saved the game."
Scheelhaase, who threw for 321 yards, went 8 of 10 on Illinois' third-quarter scoring driving, capped by Ferguson's 6-yard TD run that cut it to 14-10.
Illinois had little trouble in the first half moving the ball against Penn State, it just couldn't finish drives with a score.
Scheelhaase had a ball tipped in Penn State territory and intercepted by cornerback Jordan Lucas at the 1. The Nittany Lions pounced, with Belton ripping off a 16-yard run and Hackenberg and Robinson connecting on a 47-yard reception, setting up Belton's 5-yard TD run for a 7-0 lead.
Again, Illinois drove the ball with ease, only to have a touchdown called back because of a chop block penalty.
"I do believe that this will be a learning experience," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. "We're going to get that W. It's going to come, and it's going to come this year."
Hackenberg ended a 17-play scoring drive, PSU's longest of the season, with a 6-yard rush for a 14-0 lead in the second.
The Nittany Lions wasted a chance to head into halftime with a shutout on the final play of the half. The Nittany Lions were whistled for a personal foul on Scheelhaase on the final play of the half. With no time left on the clock, Illinois took advantage, and Taylor Zalewski kicked a 20-yard field goal to make it 14-3.