CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- A 68-yard punt return by Vincent Strang
late in the first half put California up by two touchdowns, and the
Golden Bears withstood a 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 when it had the wrong personnel on the field. That proved
crucial after John Gockman's 32-yard field goal pulled the Illini
within seven points with 1:42 remaining.
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 final play.
Strang's return was just one of several big plays for Cal (2-3),
which converted two key third-down plays during first-half scoring
drives in building a 21-7 halftime lead.
Illinois coach Ron Turner tried to run out the clock in the
first half, but the Illini were forced to punt with 45 seconds
left. Strang caught the ball at the Cal 32 and ran right before
reversing his field and sprinting down the sideline for the score.
Illinois jumped right back in the game when Beutjer and Kelvin
Hayden hooked up 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 at their own 8. But a third-down interception by Brandon
Sanders gave the Bears the 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 Geoff McArthur. Rodgers and McArthur hooked up six
times for 90 yards in the second quarter.
Illinois marched 68 yards in 14 plays on its opening drive,
scoring when Beutjer 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 connected with McArthur on a 29-yard pass on third-and-21
to take the Bears to the Illini 26. 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 the first