Illini football teams have been involved in 17 postseason bowl games during their 113 seasons, and every one has been played between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2. Four times, Illinois has played on New Year’s Eve, including a year ago at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. Three of the Dec. 31 bowl games have been decided by six points or less, while the other was a 30-point blowout. A summary of each of those four contests:
Dec. 31, 1985
Trailing 31-23 with less than a minute left, Illini quarterback Jack Trudeau found All-America receiver David Williams for a 54-yard touchdown, narrowing the margin to 31-29. An Army defensive back broke up Trudeau’s two-point pass attempt, ruining an otherwise-sterling 401-yard effort in Atlanta. Final score: Army 31, UI 29.
John Hancock Bowl
Dec. 31, 1991
In their first game under new head coach Lou Tepper, the Illini defense held high-powered UCLA without a touchdown in El Paso, Texas, yielding 268 yards of total offense. Illinois’ attack, led by QB Jason Verduzco, didn’t puncture the end zone, either, so it was left up to a battle between place-kickers Chris Richardson of Illinois and Louis Perez of UCLA. On the opening drive of the fourth quarter, UCLA recovered a fumble by UI punt returner Filmel Johnson, leading to a game-winning 19-yard field goal by Perez. Final score: UCLA 6, UI 3.
Dec. 31, 1994
Illinois dominated East Carolina in Memphis, Tenn., for all four quarters. Ken Dilger, Jasper Strong, Jason Dulick and Ty Douthard were all recipients of touchdown passes from game MVP Johnny Johnson. Defensively, Simeon Rice’s pressure on ECU’s quarterback resulted in four interceptions, allowing 271 total yards. Final score: UI 30, East Carolina 0.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Dec. 31, 2011
Illinois came back from a 7-3 halftime deficit, tallying seven points in the third quarter and 10 in the fourth to break its six-game losing streak. Nathan Scheelhaase’s 60-yard touchdown strike to A.J. Jenkins midway through the fourth quarter gave the Illini QB 139 yards through the air and 110 yards rushing. Terry Hawthorne’s 39-yard TD return of an interception gave the UI its first lead with 43 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Final score: UI 20, UCLA 14.
Sunday: Kirk Johnson, football (36)
Monday: Annie Stoessel, volleyball (35)
Tuesday: Troy Tirapelle, wrestling (26)
Wednesday: Greg McMahon, football coach (52)
Thursday: Audie Matthews, basketball (56)
Friday: Mike White, football coach (76)
Saturday: Nathan Zeder, tennis (32)
— By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore and assistant athletic director at Miami (Ohio)
— Get Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter @IlliniLegends