Nationals

Northwestern looks to secure quality bowl

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Northwestern looks to secure quality bowl

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) In line for a quality bowl, Northwestern has its ticket out and ready to be punched.

That would appear to be little more than a formality for the Wildcats with a home game against Illinois on Saturday, except they know better. They know all about their recent history against the Illini, and it's not good.

That explains why they're just a little apprehensive about Saturday's game, no matter how poor the Illini are playing.

``There is no question this is a huge rivalry,'' coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

And there's no debate, either, that his team has come up short against Illinois the past two years.

Now, Northwestern (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) appears to be in a good spot after beating Michigan State 23-20 and shaking off a brutal overtime loss at Michigan. That's something the Illini (2-9, 0-7) can't say. The free fall that began after a 6-0 start under Ron Zook last season still is going strong under new coach Tim Beckman with eight straight losses overall and 13 in a row in conference play.

The way they've struggled, it's hard to believe Illinois was a Top 25 team fighting for bragging rights in Chicago when these teams met a year ago. Yet, the memory lingers.

Northwestern hasn't forgotten.

The Wildcats wanted to avenge a 21-point beating at Wrigley Field in 2010. Instead, they left Champaign with a 38-35 loss after the Illini wiped out an 18-point deficit and rallied again to win when Nathan Scheelhaase squirmed into the end zone from a half yard with 13 seconds left, capping a wild week and setting off quite a scene after the game.

There was Scheelhaase standing near midfield, holding the Land of Lincoln trophy - a replica of Abe Lincoln's hat - as ``Sweet Home Chicago'' blared over the PA system. It was a clear response to Northwestern claiming to be Chicago's Big Ten team, and it came after a week of wrangling between the schools over that issue.

``It was definitely a tough loss,'' Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell said. ``It was a game that we thought we should have won. It was just a series of bad events. It hurt a lot.''

At that moment, the Illini were flying high.

They were 5-0 and ranked 24th, poised to move up five spots in the poll. A week later, they beat Indiana and jumped to No. 16 before everything crashed.

They dropped six in a row, costing Zook his job, before scratching out a six-point win over UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and things have been no better this year.

``At this point it doesn't matter what we've done as far as not playing the way we've wanted to,'' Scheelhaase said. ``And for them, it doesn't matter the successes they've had. It comes down to you've got to win this one game because it means a lot for pride, for I'm sure recruiting, just to be able to put your stamp on how you walked out of the season.''

The Illini rank last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and second-to-last in scoring defense, and this nightmare of a season can't end soon enough for a fan base wondering if Beckman is the right man for the job.

``I just know what I see on tape, and I see a very talented football team,'' Fitzgerald said.

He touted center Graham Pocic and left tackle Hugh Thornton as NFL prospects along with defensive end Michael Buchanan and defensive tackles Akeem Spence and Glenn Foster. He praised Scheelhaase as well as running backs Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson.

Yet he also realizes the teams are in different places at the moment, particularly Illinois. The Illini came up short again last week, falling by three to Purdue.

``We moved right to the football team upstate,'' said Beckman, who has made a point of not saying ``Northwestern'' since he was hired. ``They're a very, very good football team, a very, very good program. Coach Fitz has done a great job up there.''

While the Illini continue to struggle, Northwestern is in a good spot despite some gut-wrenching losses.

The Wildcats blew a double-digit lead at Penn State, couldn't protect a 12-point edge in the fourth quarter against Nebraska and lost in OT at Michigan after a leaping Roy Roundtree tipped and caught a 53-yard pass near the end of regulation to set up the tying field goal for the Wolverines.

Last week, the defense came through down the stretch and forced four turnovers in the game.

Now, Fitzgerald could tie Lynn Waldorf's school record with 49 wins, and the Wildcats could be in for a big payoff if they get past Illinois. The only Big Ten teams with more wins are Ohio State and Nebraska, and the Buckeyes are ineligible for postseason play.

``It's pretty simple,'' Fitzgerald said. ``We win, we open up the opportunity for some neat stuff. Bottom line is we've got to go 1-0 this week and all the other things will take care of itself.''

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Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The rain was heavy and relentless. As the puddles grew deeper on the tarp at Nationals Park, the Baltimore Orioles were left to wonder if their bid for a rare road victory would be thwarted by, of all things, the weather.

During a season in which very little has worked in their favor, the Orioles withstood a long rain delay to beat the Washington Nationals 3-0 Wednesday night.

Baltimore led 2-0 after four innings when play was stopped. After a wait of 2 hours, 43 minutes, the game resumed with a few hundred fans from the announced crowd of 32,153 sprinkled around the lower seating bowl.

Mark Trumbo homered for Baltimore, and Andrew Cashner and four relievers combined on a five-hitter in a game that ended long after midnight.

"It was nice," Trumbo said. "I'm glad that we actually kept the game going. Had we not been able to, it might have been a wash. But it ended up being pretty big for us."

Baltimore ended a six-game losing streak to Washington that began last May, won for only the fourth time in 20 games and improved the majors' worst road record to 10-28.

This one was worth the wait.

"It's never easy, especially when you get over the hour mark, two-hour mark," Trumbo said. "Then you have to restart. It's almost two games in one, so, great job by our guys tonight."

The Nationals managed only two hits following the delay, both in the ninth inning.

"It happens. You can't do anything about the rain," manager Dave Martinez said. "You've got to come out and get yourself ready to play. I'm not going to make any excuses."

The rain delay cut short a solid pitching performance by Cashner, who allowed three hits and no walks over four innings in his return from an 11-day stay on the disabled list with back spasms.

Miguel Castro (2-2) followed with two hitless innings, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect seventh and Zach Britton got four outs.

Brad Brach allowed the Nationals to load the bases with two outs in the ninth before striking out Mark Reynolds .

Trumbo hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Gio Gonzalez (6-4), and for a while it appeared the drive would be washed out by the rain.

"One pitch. That was the whole game," Gonzalez lamented. "That was it."

Indeed, it all ended well for the Orioles, who added a run in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled off Shawn Kelley and scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia .

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Need to Know: Five Redskins on the bubble who could make the roster

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Need to Know: Five Redskins on the bubble who could make the roster

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, June 21, 35 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The first five off of the roster

Here are five players who are not on my projection of the Redskins’ 53-man roster (offensedefense) but who are one injury or a few strong preseason game performances away from making it. 

G Kyle Kalis—Last year he lined up with the second team during most of training camp and he nearly made the roster as an undrafted free agent. The team did re-sign him after injuries struck the O-line in the middle of the season. He will push Tyler Catalina for a backup guard spot. 

RB Byron Marshall—He got a few touches last year before ending up on injured reserve. Marshall has looked good in practices so far, especially catching out of the backfield. Jay Gruden likely will play Chris Thompson sparingly in the preseason and that could give Marshall a chance to shine. Don’t sleep on him. 

WR Cam Sims—Right now, the undrafted rookie out of Alabama looks like the eighth wide receiver on the roster and they are only going to keep six. But if he continues to get the attention of Gruden with his play in practice and makes the most of his opportunities in preseason games, Robert Davis and Maurice Harris should look out. 

S Fish Smithson—The Redskins liked him a lot after they signed him as an undrafted free agent last year. But they didn’t like him enough to keep him on the 53-man roster; he spent the year on the practice squad, getting a late-season cup of coffee on the roster. He will push both Deshazor Everett and Troy Apke for a backup safety spot. If the Redskins have reason to be concerned about the health of Montae Nicholson they might figure out a way to keep Smithson on as a fifth safety. 

ILB Martrell Spaight—It looks like Spaight’s three-year tenure with the team essentially came to an end when they drafted Sean Dion Hamilton in the fifth round. But his play in offseason practices indicates he’s not going to go out without a fight. 

Next five off: OT T.J. Clemmings, QB Kevin Hogan, RB Kapri Bibbs, NT Phil Taylor, CB Danny Johnson

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

Timeline 

Redskins running back Derrius Guice was born on this date in 1997. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 35
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 49
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 72

The Redskins last played a game 172 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 80 days. 

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