Illini Come From Behind To Take Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl TitleJanuary 1, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The UCLA Bruins and Illinois Fighting Illini met Saturday at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, both looking to find redemption after tumultuous seasons and both led by interim coaches coaching their final games. At the end of the day and 17 unanswered points later, the Illini left AT&T Park Saturday on a high note after their 20-14 win over the Bruins.
Offensive player of the game, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, was a one-person nightmare for UCLA. The sophomore finished the afternoon rushing for a game-high 139 yards and throwing for 110 to account for much of the Illini offense.
The Illini defense, one of the best in the Big Ten, flexed its muscle in the throughout the game. Despite ending the first half down 7-3, Illinois defenders had held UCLA to 65 yards of total offense. On the day, the defense never let UCLA reach the red-zone and finished with a season lows in rushing yards (18) and total offense (220).
The biggest contribution by the Illini defense, however, came when linebacker Terry Hawthorne delivered the game-changing moment. Hawthorne, who took defensive player of the game honors, picked off a Kevin Prince pass and ran it back 39 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Illinois later added points from a 38-yard field goal and Scheelhaase’s 60-yard touchdown pass to go up 20-7 and essentially put the game out of reach.
The Bruins made it interesting late in the fourth, after Prince found Nelson Rosario in the corner of the end zone to pull UCLA within 20-14, but the Illini special teams cradled the ensuing on-side kick to secure Illinois’ second-straight bowl win.
"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."
Coming into the game, there was little anyone wanted to carry with them about this season. The Illini had lost six straight contests after an encouraging 6-0 start , a turn of events that ended up costing head coach Ron Zook his job at the end of the season. Assistant Vic Koenning agreed to take the reins for Illinois’ bowl appearance.
"We're so thankful that Coach (Koenning) stayed with us through the bowl game," Scheelhaase said. "He did a great job working with us and I'm proud we were able to come away with the win."
Illinois improved to 7-6.
For UCLA, Prince threw for a game-high 201 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the loss. The Pac-12 South Champion Bruins finished their season with a 6-8 record.
- Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus tied former Illini and NFL great Simeon Rice’s single-season sack record, when he dropped Kevin Prince in the fourth quarter for his 16th sack of the season.
- Kraft Foods second annual Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl reached its goal to surpass 25 million meals donated as a result of the food giant’s Huddle to Fight Hunger campaign. This year’s campaign donated 25,554,558 meals nation-wide.
- Terry Hawthorne’s interception touchdown run back was the second in the 10-year history of the San Francisco bowl.
- Attendance was 29, 878