Big Plays Make the Difference for Bulldogs Defeat of Fighting Illini in 2014 Dallas Bowl

While neither team was able to make much of an impact during the regular college football season, both the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-7) and the La. Tech Bulldogs (9-5) were able to put on a respectable show for 31,297 football fans at the 2014 Heat of Dallas Bowl held at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas on December 26, 2014. The loss was disappointing for those fans who ended up betting on the Fighting Illini football team, who played a brave but ineffective game. Illinois college football may not have earned a new feather in their cap during this game, but the Fighting Illini did deliver a valiant effort.

Despite the fact the Illini out-gained the Bulldogs 451 yards to 361 yards, it was the Bulldogs that dominated the scoreboard 35-18 on the strength of big plays on both side of the ball. For Bulldogs' Sr DE Houston Bates, the game was particularly satisfying as he spent much of the day in the Illini backfield, accounting for 4 1/2 sacks against a squad he played for from 2011-2013 before transferring after graduation with one-year of remaining eligibility. For his efforts, Bates was named the game's "Most Valuable Player".

For the Illini, the loss had to be disappointing, leaving the team with a losing record on the season. The fact is the offense did its job, but missed field goals and untimely penalties plagued efforts throughout the game. Illini QB Reilly O'Toole was the best offensive player on either team, finishing with 24-39 passing for 295 yards and one TD. La. Tech struck first at 8:04 in the first quarter when RB Jarred Craft ran around the right-side for a 16-yard TD run making the score 7-0. The Illini struck back after a long drive, settling on a 27-yard field-goal by K Taylor Zalewski.

After the ensuing kickoff, the Bulldogs registered the first big play of the game when QB Cody Sokol caught the Illini defense sleeping and hit RB Kenneth Dixon down the right side of the field for an 80-yard touchdown pass. After another sustained drive for the Illini, Zalewski missed a field 42-yard goal attempt to start the second quarter.

The Illini would get the ball back after a defensive stop and proceeded to finally put the ball in the end-zone with a 25-yard touchdown pass in the middle of the field from O'Toole to WR Jon Davis. With the score sitting at 14-10 in favor of the Bulldogs, Illinois got the ball back with a chance to take the lead. Unfortunately, Sokol made his only mistake of the game. It resulted in a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown by LB Xavier Woods.

Both teams failed to move the ball again until midway through the third quarter when the Illini sustained a drive that was capped off by a 3-yard TD run from Donovonn Young. A failed 2-point conversion left the score at 21-15 with the Bulldogs on top heading into the final quarter. After an Illinois 43-yard field goal by K David Reisner, the lead was cut to 21-18 before the Bulldogs closed out the scoring with two rushing touchdowns. The last score was a 28-yard scamper to the left-side by RB Blake Matin, leaving the final score at 35-18 and helping the Bulldogs close out a successful season.