COLUMBIA — It was a matchup between teams with their loftiest goals in recent memory.
Missouri was a national championship contender. Illinois was nationally ranked and hoping to be in the mix for a Big Ten title. There were future NFL stars dotting both sidelines. And when it was over, everything was how it was supposed to be.
The loss seemed like a respectable one for the Illini at the time. Missouri was a top 10 team. Falling to the Tigers in a shootout on a neutral field wasn't something to hang their heads about. They had plenty of talent. They'd be back.
But already with one loss in the books, Illinois stumbled through the remainder of their schedule. It lost to Minnesota at home. It dropped four of their last five games including a loss to Mid American opponent Western Michigan.
And while some would have questions about facing such a tough opponent so early on, Juice Williams wouldn't have it any other way.
Because of complaints from Illinois football representatives about the neutral site game depriving the team of an additional home game each year, the Arch Rivalry game will end after the 2011 season. But despite losses to Missouri to open two straight seasons, several members of the Illini said that the environment and the challenge associated with the game are things that the players will miss going forward.
"It's kind of unfortunate because you take away a high impact game," Williams said. "It's something as a football team that you look forward to every year, playing in an NFL stadium against a great opponent from the Big 12."
After the performance Williams had last season, it's no wonder he's upset that future Illini won't have a chance to face the Missouri defense.
The Illinois senior quarterback had the best game of his college career against the Tigers last year, completing 26 of his 42 passes for 451 yards and five touchdowns in Illinois' 52-42 defeat to open the 2008 season.
But even players that haven't had such success against Missouri are disappointed that the rivalry won't be continuing.
Arrelious Benn is only a junior, but with many projecting the 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver to go in the first round of next year's NFL Draft, this might be his final game against the Tigers as well.
"It's kinda tough," Benn said. "Missouri's a great atmosphere. It's a rivalry game, and I wish it could keep going on and on."