Golden Bears upend the Fighting Illini in the Redbox Bowl 35-20

sfgate.com photo: California quarterback Chase Garbers (7) scrabbles away from Illinois defensive lineman Ayo Shogbonyo (52) during the first half of the Redbox Bowl NCAA college football game Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif

By Jeremy Kahn

SANTA CLARA-With a chance to finish the season with a winning record, the Illinois Fighting Illini could not overcome a fantastic performance by California Golden Bears quarterback Chase Garbers.

The CAL quarterback threw four touchdowns and ran for another, as the Golden Bears defeated the Fighting Illini 35-20 in the Redbox Bowl before a crowd of 34,177 at Levis Stadium, the home of the NFC Western Division Champion San Francisco 49ers.

Garbers was not the only star for the Golden Bears, as Christopher Brown Jr. carried the ball 20 times for 120 yards and Makai Polk hauled in five catches for a season-high 105 yards, helping the Golden Bears to their first win in the post season since the 2015 Armed Forces Bowl.

After missing the season finale against rival Northwestern due to a concussion, Michigan graduate transfer Brandon Peters returned to the starting lineup and passed for 273 yards on the afternoon. Peters also led the team in rushing, as he gained 68 yards on the ground.

Peters went 22-for-37 before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter, as he flew through the air trying extend the Fighting Iliinis chances in the game. Unfortunately, Peters came up a yard short, giving the ball back to the Golden Bears on downs.

Garbers threw touchdowns of 4,3, 2 and 6 and also added a one-yard scamper, helping the Golden Bears to their highest scoring performance of the season.

Despite being sacked three times, Garbers went 22-for-31 for 272 yards, as he was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player.

Nikko Remigio, who came up huge in the Golden Bears Big Game win against the Stanford Cardinal on November 23 caught four passes for 36 yards and a touchdown.

Donny Navarro was the leading receiver for the Fighting Illini, as he caught six passes for 77 yards. Daniel Barker hauled in three passes for 55 yards and the lone touchdown for the Fighting Illini.

Lombardi Award finalist Evan Weaver led the Golden Bears in tackles with nine, while both Nate Hobbs and Khalan Tolson led the Fighting Illini with eight tackles.

The defensive player of the game was Zeandae Johnson, as he picked up three tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

James McCourt got the Fighting Illini on the board, as he kicked a 25-yard field goal to give them a 3-0 lead.

On the Golden Bears ensuing possession, Garbers found Collin Moore for a four-yard touchdown pass to give them their first lead of the afternoon.

The two teams began to exchange punches on the scoreboard, as Peters gave the Fighting Illini the lead once again, as he found Barker from five yards out.

Garbers then gave the Golden Bears the lead for good, as he scored on a one-yard run on their next series.

The duo of Garbers and Brown extended the Golden Bears lead up to 21-10 with 25 seconds remaining in the first half, as Brown caught a four-yard touchdown pass.

McCourt cut the lead down to eight at the half, as he nailed a 30-yard field goal as time expired at the end of the first half.

Gavin Reinwald got into the act, as he caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Garbers for the only scoring of the third quarter.

The Golden Bears put the finish touches on their scoring, as Remigio caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Garbers.

Reggie Corbin closed out the scoring for both teams, as he scored on a six-yard run with just over eight minutes to go in the game.

NOTES: This was the Fighting Illinis second trip to the Redbox Bowl, and their record falls to 1-1 overall. They defeated the UCLA Bruins in the 2011 game held at AT&T Park by the final score of 20-14.

As for the Golden Bears, this was also their second appearance and both times they came away with a victory, as behind Jahvid Bests bowl game record 186 yards rushing and two touchdowns, the Golden Bears defeated the Miami Hurricanes 24-17.

UP NEXT: With the season over, the Fighting Illini will begin the fifth season under Lovie Smith against the Illinois State Redbirds on September 4, 2020 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

Justin Wilcox will begin his fourth season in Berkeley on August 29 against the UNLV Rebels at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the new home of the Rebels and the Las Vegas Raiders.

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