Big Ten

Gophers win Quick Lane Bowl for first bowl win since 2004

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Gophers win Quick Lane Bowl for first bowl win since 2004

Complain about 5-7 teams playing in bowl games all you want, but for the first time in more than 10 years, the Gophers claimed a bowl victory.

A questionable coaching decision turned dangerous for Tracy Claeys, as he watched his team fall behind in the fourth quarter. But playing one of the best games of his career, quarterback Mitch Leidner led Minnesota on a terrific comeback drive, earning a 21-14 win over Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl for the program's first postseason win since 2004, snapping a seven-game bowl losing streak.

Ahead, 13-7, in the early stages of the fourth quarter, Claeys opted not to punt from the CMU 44-yard line, instead failing to convert on fourth and two. The Chippewas followed with a blitz of a scoring drive, gaining 21, 16 and six yards on consecutive plays before Romello Ross streaked then powered into the end zone, pushed by teammates for a go-ahead score that put his team in front 14-13.

But Leidner answered, leading a long drive that lasted nearly seven minutes, converting twice on third down with brilliant option keepers, the second a 13-yard touchdown run. He followed by scrambling away from pressure and finding KJ Maye in the end zone to complete a successful two-point conversion, making the Minnesota lead seven at 21-14. The Gophers held on defense, with Briean Boddy-Calhoun intercepting Cooper Rush as the Chippewas moved into Minnesota territory, and the win was locked up from there.

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The Gophers' defense dominated much of the game, allowing just 249 yards on the day and holding Rush — who entered as with the 12th-best yards-per-game mark in the country — to just 15 completions for 149 yards and no touchdowns.

Minnesota drove all the way to the five-yard line on the game's opening drive but had to settle for a field goal. Central Michigan grabbed a lead on the first play of the second quarter when Rush capped a 15-play, 82-yard drive with a dive from one-yard out for a touchdown.

The Gophers answered that touchdown drive with one of their own, Shannon Brooks starring along the way with runs of 19 and 30 yards before Leidner hit Maye, who made a leaping grab in the end zone for the score to make it a 10-7 game.

In the third quarter, following a Leidner pass to Drew Wolitarsky for a gain of 40 yards and a Brooks pickup of 15, Ryan Santoso booted another field goal to make it 13-7 before the fourth-quarter touchdown trading.

Leidner was great Monday, completing 24 of his 30 passing attempts for 223 yards and a touchdown and rushing nine times for 19 yards and a touchdown.

For Minnesota, it was the first bowl win since a defeat of Alabama in the Music City Bowl in 2004. Since, the Gophers appeared in seven bowl games over 10 seasons but lost all seven, including in each of the last three seasons under former head coach Jerry Kill. Kill was on the sideline Monday after retiring in the middle of this season due to health problems.

Minnesota finished the campaign with a 6-7 record. For all the consternation over 5-7 teams making bowl games, all three of those teams were victorious this winter.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.