Big Ten

Illini narrowly avoid defeat against Middle Tennessee State

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Illini narrowly avoid defeat against Middle Tennessee State

The Illini narrowly avoided a home-field defeat at the hands of Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, a missed field-goal attempt in the final seconds allowing Illinois to improve to 3-1.

The kicking game factored heavily into the game's final minutes, a 51-yard Taylor Zalewski boot proving to be the game-winning play for the Illini in a 27-25 win in Champaign.

The Illini led, 24-12, going into the fourth quarter, but a Blue Raiders touchdown pass a little more than three minutes into the final frame sliced that lead to just five points. With a little more than four minutes to play, Middle Tennessee State got another touchdown pass, this one for 22 yards, to take a 25-24 lead on Illinois after the two-point conversion attempt failed.

But Wes Lunt led an eight-play, 41-yard drive that last roughly two minutes and ended in Zalewski's 51-yard kick, the third 50-plus-yard field goal in his career.

It looked grim for the Illini, though, as the Blue Raiders marched down the field over the final two minutes on a drive that featured two fourth-down conversions. At the Illinois 26-yard line, a 43-yard field-goal try was wide left, and the Illini held on for the escape of a win.

[MORE BIG TEN: David Blough impresses, but Purdue suffers crushing loss to Bowling Green]

Illinois was fortunate to walk out of Memorial Stadium a winner Saturday, as the offense looked out of sync for much of the game and failed to impress much. The Illini posted just 378 yards of total offense, with Lunt throwing for 238 yards and a touchdown. The running game was a bright side, with both Josh Ferguson and Ke'Shawn Vaughn going for more than 80 yards. Vaughn had an eight-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

But in the first half, Lunt bobbled a snap and fell down in his own end zone, hit for a safety. That gave the ball right back to Middle Tennessee State, which scored a 63-yard touchdown several plays later.

The Illini defense was better than it was last week against North Carolina, but it wasn't quite the dominating force it was in the first two games against Kent State and Western Illinois. Middle Tennessee State threw for 330 yards but rushed for just 38 yards.

The special teams unit made a huge play, with Caleb Day blocking a punt and Clayton Fejedelem falling on top of it in the end zone for a touchdown.

It would have been an embarrassing loss had it ended as such for the Illini, but it didn't, meaning a 3-1 record and halfway to bowl eligibility.

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.