Houston, He Was a Problem

Louisiana Tech defender haunts his former team in bowl victory earning MVP honors as Louisiana Tech downs Illinois 35-18 in Dallas.

Everyone talked about it leading up to the game, and Houston Bates did not disappoint. The senior transfer at Louisiana Tech was dominant against his former school, racking up 4.5 sacks en route to MVP honors as selected by the media.

Illinois knew coming into the matchup that they would have to play a disciplined game all-around, but racking up several penalties in the first quarter alone and allowing a couple of big plays to the Bulldogs put them behind from the start.

At one point, the Illini's David Reisner banked in a 43 yard field goal of the right upright to cut the La Tech lead to 3 and make it an 18-21 game, however it was all La Tech the rest of the way out as a couple late touchdowns made the final 35-18.

Illinois battled several frustrating moments in the first half, none bigger than a no-call on a clear hold on freshman receiver Mike Dudek, which turned into a 69 yard interception return by the Bulldogs.

Dudek, who finished with 50 yards rushing and had 7 catches for 73 yards became one of only a handful of Illini receivers to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark in a single season, joining the likes of A.J. Jenkins and Brandon Lloyd.

Perhaps the gutsiest performance of the day came from Illinois senior quarterback Reilly O'Toole, who finished 24-39 for 295 yards and a touchdown as well as the aforementioned interception. But what was most impressive about his day was the fact that he took hit after hit and kept coming back for more. And really, his performance epitomized the toughness that the senior group played with down the stretch.

Illinois held talented running back Kenneth Dixon to 67 yards (2 touchdowns) on the day, far below his usual, but the missed field goals and penalties stalled several Illinois drives.

Late in the game, Lakeith Walls put a big hit on La Tech quarterback Cody Sokol to force a fumble, which was recovered by defensive end Jihad Ward. However, during the return, Ward fumbled the ball back to La Tech after none other than Kenneth Dixon stripped him. The momentum at that point went back to the Bulldogs and left Illinois scrambling the remainder of the game.

Bulldogs quarterback Cody Sokol finished 14-28 for 247 yards, but 157 of those yards came on just two plays, one to Carlos Henderson for 72 and one to Kenneth Dixon for 80. Both of those plays happened as a result of busted coverage leaving them wide open for the easy pitch and catch.

Illinois finishes the season 6-7 while the win gives La Tech a 9-5 mark to end the year. For the seniors, it was a bittersweet ending to their Illini careers, but many of them stated after the game that the bar is now set for the younger players, who Illinois Coach Tim Beckman said will be back at it on January 19th for offseason work.

Looking back on it, Illinois was just a play or two away from their season ending a month ago, but after clawing back from a 4-6 record to become bowl eligible, just getting to the bowl was a victory. Nobody will downplay the impact a win could have had on the program, but if nothing else, the outcome has left something on the list of goals for the next group to whom the seniors have passed the torch.

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