Sept 1, 2001
BERKELEY -- Cal posted more total yards and edged Illinois in time of possession, but the Golden Bears couldn't overcome five turnovers and a 31-point first-half deficit Saturday against the Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Illinois defeated Cal, 44-17, and handed the Bears their first season-opening loss in six years.
Illinois scored the game's first 24 points and ended the first half with a commanding 38-7 lead. Cal fell to Illinois, 17-15, last season in a defensive battle decided by a failed two-point try.
This time, Cal's defense struggled to contain an Illini offense led by quarterback Kurt Kittner, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and the backfield tandem of Antoineo Harris and Rocky Harvey.
Illinois (1-0) tailback Antoineo Harris scored the first of his three first-half touchdowns on a leap into the endzone from the 1-yard line with 9:47 left in the first quarter. The score capped an 80-yard, 12-play drive to open the game. J.J. Tubbs added the point after to give Illinois an early 7-0 lead.
Cal (0-1) was forced to punt on its first possession and opened the door for Illinois to add to its lead. Starting from the UI 20-yard line, Illini quarterback Kurt Kittner quickly hit Brandon Lloyd 46 yards downfield and into Bear territory. Illinois soon had first-and-goal on the Cal 9-yard line, but the Bears defense stopped the attack and forced Tubbs to kick a 32-yard field goal. With 4:23 left in the opening quarter, the Illini extended their lead to 10-0.
Cal's offense didn't have the opportunity to take the field following the field goal, however, after Atari Callen fumbled the return on the Bears 26-yard line. The Illini took over and Harris scored his second TD of the game on a 7-yard run with 2:02 left in the opening period to give Illinois a 17-0 advantage.
The Golden Bears next offensive series resulted in another of Cal's five turnovers on the day. With less than a minute to go in the first quarter, the Illini's Derrick Strong sacked Cal quarterback Kyle Boller and forced a fumble deep in Bears territory. Illinois recovered on Cal's 10-yard line and converted the miscue into seven points. Harris ran in his third touchdown of the first half from the Bears 1-yard line. At the 14:38 mark in the second quarter, Illinois led the Bears, 24-0.
Cal and Illinois traded punts on their next possessions before the Bears scored their first points of the season with 6:35 left in the half. Tailback Joe Igber broke through the Illinois defense for runs of 20 and 25 yards before finding the endzone on a 1-yard run up the middle. Mark Jensen capped the 86-yard drive by adding the point after to narrow the Illinois lead to 24-7.
Illinois' first-half offensive explosion wasn't over. On its next drive, Kittner, who completed 18-of-34 passes for 297 yards on the day, found Lloyd across the middle for the receiver's first of two touchdowns. Lloyd caught eight passes for 178 yards, including the 49-yard reception that culminated a 7-play, 80-yard Illini drive. With 3:29 to go in the first half, it was 31-7.
Cal's next drive stalled and the Bears were forced to punt from their own 23-yard line. But Tyler Fredrickson's kick was blocked by the Illini's Dwayne Smith and recovered by Ade Adeyemo at the Bears 10-yard line with less than two minutes left in the half. Kittner then found Lloyd in the back of the endzone with 1:01 remaining, giving Illinois a commanding 38-7 lead.
Despite giving up three rushing touchdowns in the first half, Cal held the Illini to just 43 yards on the ground as Cal netted 44 first-half rushing yards, led by Igber's 52. Illinois' Kittner passed for 237 yards while Cal's Boller connected for just 81 yards in the first half. For the game, the Bears gained 381 total yards compared to the Illini's 373.
Cal struck first in the second half on a 27-yard field goal by Jensen with 10:16 remaining in the third quarter that cut the Illini lead to 38-10.
Illinois' Bobby Jackson intercepted a Boller pass intended for Sean Currin with 8:57 left in the third quarter giving the Illini excellent field position at the Bears 29-yard line, but the Cal defense forced Illinois to settle for a 27-yard field goal. With 6:01 left in the period, the Illini led 41-10.
The Bears strung together a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive as time wound down in the third quarter, ending in a 2-yard touchdown run up the middle by Igber. Igber, who became Cal's eighth all-time leading rusher during the drive and finished the day with 116 yards on the ground, scored his second TD of the game and brought the Bears to within 41-17 at the end of the third period. Igber also caught three passes for 34 yards.
Illinois tacked on another three points after Tubbs kicked a 42-yard field goal with 12:32 left in the game.
Cal quarterback Eric Holtfreter replaced Boller, who completed 17-of-29 passes for 184 yards, in the fourth quarter and led the Bears deep into Illini territory with under two minutes to play. But Illinois safety Muhammad Abdullah intercepted a pass in the endzone to halt the Cal drive.