Redbox Bowl Halftime Report: California leads Illinois 21-13

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Jonathan Bonaguro

Illinois cheerleaders march during Illinois’ pregame pep rally with fans before the Redbox Bowl in San Francisco Sunday.

By JJ Kim, Managing Editor for Reporting

The Redbox Bowl is the Illini’s first time in five years playing in a bowl game, and the Illini faithful were loud and jubilant from the start, but trail the California Golden Bears at halftime 21-13.

To open up the game, junior linebacker Milo Eifler sacked Cal quarterback Chase Garbers on the first play of the game. The Golden Bears attempted to start out with some tempo however the Illini defense looked well prepared to match their speed.

On Illinois’ first possession of the game, junior quarterback Brandon Peters ripped off a 30-yard run, followed by a run by freshman Isaiah Williams which was fumbled, then picked up by senior guard Richie Petitbon for a first down. The drive was capped off by a 25-yard field goal by junior kicker James McCourt.

The second series for the Illini defense was the exact opposite as Cal’s sophomore running back, Christopher Brown Jr., ripped off a 54-yard run to set up the Bears in the red zone, followed by a pass interference on sophomore safety Jartavious Martin that helped make way for Cal to throw for an easy four-yard touchdown pass.

In an attempt to respond to the 79-yard touchdown drive, the Illini offense kept Peters moving with bootlegs and options to try and slow down the Cal pass rush.

The majority of the drive, however, took place on the ground as offensive coordinator Rod Smith looked to get the run game going early. Williams was utilized several times throughout the drive, including catching a screen pass for a decent gain.

Peters also kept several plays alive with his legs, leading the Illini in rushing after the first quarter with 43 yards.

The Illini ended the first quarter, responding with a 15 play, 75-yard drive, capped off by a five-yard touchdown pass from Peters to sophomore Daniel Barker.

At the end of the first, the Illini led Cal in total offense with 139 yards compared to the Golden Bears’ 80.

In the second quarter, the Illinois run defense seemed porous, allowing 273. Following an overturned call, Cal got the ball on the one-yard line and was able to quarterback sneak it in for a touchdown.

With the Illini down 14-10 early in the second, the game looked as if it was going to be a shootout. On their first drive of the quarter, sophomore receiver Donny Navarro made an acrobatic catch despite defensive pass interference, but the Illini could not convert on third, leaving that catch in vain.

On their next possession, the Illini opted for a higher tempo, preventing Cal from substituting their players while the Illini pounded the ground. However, a string of incompletions forced the Illini to punt in Cal territory.

After a 37-yard punt by junior punter Blake Hayes that pinned Cal back at their own three-yard line, the Illini secondary allowed four straight first-down completions, as the Cal offense drove down the length of the field for a 97-yard scoring drive, finished off by a three-yard touchdown pass to Brown Jr. on fourth down.

The score put Cal up 21-10 with less than thirty seconds remaining in the first half.

The Illini refused to give up there, as Peters launched a 40-yard pass to Barker to put Illinois in the red zone with nine seconds remaining. With a short pass to

Navarro, the Illini settled for a field goal to close out the first half, cutting the Golden Bear lead to 21-13.
At the half, Cal leads the Illini in total yards with 273 compared to Illinois’ 242.

@JJKimSports

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