Golden Bears Hold Off Illinois

Associated Press Writer

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - A 68-yard punt return by Vincent Strang late in thefirst half put Cal up by two touchdowns, and the Golden Bears withstooda furious Illinois rally in the final five minutes for a 31-24 win Saturday.

Illinois (1-3) was forced to use its final timeout with 11:15 remaining whenit had the wrong personnel on the field. That proved crucial after JohnGockman's 32-yard field goal pulled the Illini within seven points with 1:42remaining.

Illinois recovered an onside kick and had a chance to tie. Forced to hurry,they got to the 4 before quarterback Jon Beutjer was sacked on the game's finalplay.

Strang's return was just one of several big plays for Cal (2-3), whichconverted two key third-down plays during first-half scoring drives in buildinga 21-7 halftime lead.

Illinois coach Ron Turner tried to run out the clock in the first half, butthe Illini were forced to punt with 45 seconds left. Strang caught the ball atthe Cal 32 and ran right before reversing his field and sprinting down thesideline for the score.

Illinois jumped right back in the game when Beutjer and Kelvin Hayden hookedup for a 72-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.

The Illini stopped Cal's next drive and had momentum as they took over attheir own 8. But a third-down interception by Brandon Sanders gave the Bearsthe ball at the Illini 26 and led to a 5-yard TD run by Adimchinobe Echemandu.

Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, making his first start of the season,completed 20 of 37 passes for 263 yards and one touchdown, a 14-yarder to GeoffMcArthur. Rodgers and McArthur hooked up six times for 90 yards in the secondquarter.

Illinois marched 68 yards in 14 plays on its opening drive, scoring whenBeutjer hit Halsey with a 10-yard pass to give the Illini a 7-0 lead.

Illinois' defense had Cal stopped on the next drive until Rodgers connectedwith McArthur on a 29-yard pass on third-and-21 to take the Bears to the Illini26. The two hooked up for 19 more on the next play and, two plays later, J.J.Arrington ran it in from 5 yards out to tie the score with 3:31 to go in thefirst quarter.

Now on Pac-12 Network
12:30 PM PT

Airing on:

  • Pac-12 Network