Dec. 31, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO - Junior cornerback Terry Hawthorne returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to spark Illinois to a 20-14 come-from-behind victory over UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl before 29,878 at AT&T Park on Saturday.
Hawthorne, who was named the game's Most Outstanding Defense Player, keyed a strong defensive effort by the Illini (7-6) as they registered five sacks and limited the Bruins (6-8) to a season-low 18 yards rushing and 220 total yards.
Trailing 7-3 with under a minute remaining in the third quarter, Hawthorne picked off a Kevin Prince pass intended for Shaquelle Evans and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown that gave Illinois a 10-7 lead. The interception came three plays after Derek Dimke missed a 37-yard field goal attempt.
Leading 13-7, the Illini sealed their second consecutive bowl victory when quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase connected with A.J. Jenkins on a 60-yard scoring play with 5:36 remaining that gave Illinois a 20-7 lead and helped snap a six-game losing streak.
"This is something that Illinois has never done before, winning back-to-back bowl games," Illini interim head coach Vic Koenning said. "Our guys can take great pride in that and carry this with them for the rest of their lives."
Scheelahaase, who was named the game's Most Outstanding Offensive Player, finished 18 of 30 for 139 yards, a touchdown and interception. The Illini quarterback also was the game's leading rusher as he ran the ball 22 times for 110 yards.
"We're so thankful that Coach (Koenning) stayed with us through the bowl game," Scheelahaase said. "He did a great job working with us and I'm proud we were able to come away with the win."
With both teams struggling offensively, it was UCLA that put together the game's first sustained scoring drive that culminated when quarterback Kevin Prince found Taylor Embree for a 16-yard touchdown that capped a five-play 44-yard drive.
"We knew we were going to have to get some shots (downfield), but we didn't want to throw as much as we did today," UCLA interim head coach Mike Johnson said. "We had trouble getting the running game started, and they were giving us throws down the middle, so we had to take some shots. We didn't make enough of those plays."
Illinois moved the ball into Bruins' territory three times in the first half and managed only a 35-yard field goal on the final play of the half after having a first-and-goal on the five-yard line. The Illini's first two possessions into UCLA territory ended with an interception and failed fake field goal attempt.
The Bruins' offense struggled against the stout Illinois defense and was unable to put any points on the board until the final minute of the game when Prince connected with Nelson Rosario for an 38-yard touchdown with :29 remaining.
Prince finished the game 14 of 29 yards for 201 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
"This is a tough season and we didn't want to end it this way, especially for our seniors," Prince said. "It is what it is. Illinois played a great game and they have a great defense. The offense stuck in there and made some plays when they needed. They were the better team.