(Saturday, December 31st)
Final Score: Illinois 20, UCLA 14
San Francisco, CA (Sports Network) - Terry Hawthorne returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown and A.J. Jenkins had a 60-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter, lifting Illinois to a 20-14 win over UCLA in the Fight Hunger Bowl.
Jenkins finished the game with 80 yards on six receptions for the Fighting Illini (7-6), who have won back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.
It was Illinois' first win since October 8.
"For this senior class it's very important," Jenkins, a senior, said of the win. "We're going into the new year with a win and out sending the senior class and also giving them the momentum going into next season."
Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 139 yards with a touchdown and an interception on 18-of-30 passing and added 110 rushing yards.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning served as the interim coach for Illinois after Ron Zook was fired following an ugly end to the regular season, which saw the Illini lose six straight games following a promising 6-0 start. Illinois named former Toledo head coach Tim Beckman as its new coach on December 9.
Kevin Prince was 14-of-29 for 201 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for UCLA (6-8), which lost its last three games to close the season.
"It's extremely disappointing," Prince said of the loss. "Going for a month thinking about this game, preparing for it, spending a week here, everything leads up to this one moment. And then to fall short, it's very disappointing."
The Bruins, who came into the game averaging 190.7 rushing yards per game, were held to just 18 yards on the ground.
UCLA fired Rick Neuheisel prior to its Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon following an embarrassing 50-0 loss to bitter rival USC. Offensive Coordinator Mike Johnson handled the interim coaching duties for UCLA on Saturday. UCLA announced Jim Mora Jr. as its new head coach on December 10.
Trailing 7-3 late in the third quarter, Illinois scored the game's next 17 points to seize control.
Hawthorne gave the Illini their first lead, 10-7, following a 39-yard interception return for touchdown. On the play, Prince's pass was intended for Shaquelle Evans, but Hawthorne read and timed the play beautifully, stepping in front of the throw before racing the other way for an easy score.
After a Bruins three-and-out, Illinois went 47 yards in six plays and Derek Dimke nailed a 37-yard field goal to make it a 13-7 game.
Jenkins took a quick slant at midfield and outran the UCLA secondary for a 60- yard score to conclude a quick five-play, 74-yard drive to give Illinois a 20-7 advantage with 5:36 left in the game.
Nelson Rosario hauled in a 38-yard touchdown with 29 seconds left in the contest, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Illinois.
Each team struggled to move the ball for much of the first quarter, but it was the Illini who made the first mistake.
Scheelhaase hit Jon Davis right in the numbers with a perfect throw, but the ball ricocheted sharply off his chest and fell into the waiting arms of UCLA's Jordan Zumwalt. But the Bruins did nothing with the turnover, quickly going three-and-out to keep the game scoreless with 5:01 to go in the first quarter.
Following a nice defensive stand on 4th-and-1, UCLA took over at the Illini 44-yard line. UCLA took advantage as Prince found Taylor Embree for a 16-yard score to give the Bruins a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. A critical roughing the passer penalty by Illinois on a 3rd-and-16 kept the drive alive.
Illinois took over at the UCLA 30-yard line following a fumbled shotgun snap late in the half. The turnover led to a 36-yard Dimke field goal to make it a 7-3 game at the break.
Illinois beat Baylor, 38-14, in last year's Texas Bowl...UCLA fell to 14-16-1 all time in bowl games...The Bruins were the only team invited to a bowl game with a losing record. The last team to appear in a bowl game with a losing record was North Texas. The Mean Green entered the 2001 New Orleans Bowl as the Sun Belt Champions, despite a 5-7 record...Illinois totaled 178 yards on the ground.
12/31 23:08:40 ET