Texas Bowl, Baylor Vs. Illinois: Nathan Scheelhaase, Illini Hold Off Bears Rally, Win 38-14

The Illinois Fighting Illini and Baylor Bears are squaring off at Houston's Reliant Stadium, live on ESPN.

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Texas Bowl, Baylor Vs. Illinois: Illini Win In A Walk, Despite Brief Offensive Spurt By Bears

There was a point, for about five minutes in the fourth quarter, when it looked like Baylor might be able to make a game of what was otherwise a convincing demolition by Illinois. The Bears had just scored 14 unanswered points to cut the Illini lead to 10, and there was plenty of time for a Baylor victory.

Then, Illinois marched 66 yards down the field in three minutes, pushing its margin to 31-14 with just over seven minutes to go, and a game that had briefly looked competitive was back on its way to being a rout. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tacked on a 55-yard touchdown run off a bootleg with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter to pad the score.

The Illini piled up 551 yards of total offense in the game, including 184 yards rushing by Mikel Leshoure, who set the single-season rushing record for Illinois in the game. Leshoure also had three touchdowns. Scheelhaase was 19-of-23 for 245 yards.

Baylor QB Robert Griffin III was 30-of-41 for 326 yards and a touchdown and had 42 yards rushing. The Illini held the Bears to 102 yards on the ground, just over Baylor’s average rushing yardage for the season.

Ron Zook’s team clinched their second winning season and first bowl victory with him at the helm, giving him at least another year to try to build a successful program at Illinois. It’s also just the second time he’s finished better than eighth in the Big Ten.

The loss means the Bears end the year on a four-game losing streak, but that’s still not enough to take away Baylor’s first winning record in 15 years. That’s progress for a program that hasn’t had much success since entering the Big XII, even if that progress came up a little bit short Wednesday.

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