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Williams vs No. 1 Azarenka in Brisbane semifinals

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Williams vs No. 1 Azarenka in Brisbane semifinals

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams had a tough win over the woman she's predicting will one day top the rankings, setting up a semifinal match at the Brisbane International against current No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.

The reigning Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Olympic champion showed plenty of emotion on key points in a heavy-hitting duel with Fed Cup teammate Sloane Stephens on Thursday before winning 6-4, 6-3.

Williams converted both break points and fended off one break chance against her in each set, later saying Stephens had the potential to be ``the best in the world one day.''

Stephens was hitting the ball hard and cleanly, and got the better of some powerful rallies, but lacked experience in the two key moments - giving up a set point after wasting a game point on her own serve in the first and dropping serve in the eighth game of the second set.

The 19-year-old Stephens accepted the warm praise from Williams, her childhood idol.

``To have someone like that who I think is one of the greatest players to ever play the game say that about you is really nice,'' Stephens said. ``I lost to the best player in the world today, so, you know, it's good.''

Williams has an 11-1 record against Azarenka and was 5-0 against the 23-year-old Belarussian in 2012, including the U.S. Open final.

Olympic and U.S. Open champion Andy Murray was pushed before winning his opening match 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 against Australian qualifier John Millman, who finished last year ranked No. 228.

The third-ranked Murray, the defending Brisbane champion, clutched at his stomach after missing a forehand in the third game of the second set and later had to save four set points before Millman tied the match at one set apiece.

Murray recovered from his lapse, got the only break in the deciding third set and finished off by holding serve at love. He'll meet Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, a 7-5, 7-5 winner over former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, in the quarterfinals.

``For a first match of the year, that was a perfect match in many ways to go through some tough moments, a lot of long rallies, close games, and important points,'' Murray said. ``It was great to play in an atmosphere like that for the first match of the year, to get back into the swing of playing in front of large and loud crowds.

``No matter how much you practice, you can't replicate those sorts of atmospheres.''

In the other men's second-round matches, Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria upset No. 2-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada 6-3, 6-4 and No. 7 Jurgen Melzer of Austria had a 6-5, 7-6 (4) win over David Goffin of Belgium.

The women's semifinals are set for Friday, with Williams getting the least recovery time.

She seemed to have trouble with her right calf muscle midway through the second set against Stephens, knocking her lower leg three times with her racket before she served at 40-0 in the fifth game, but later said she didn't have any injury concerns.

Azarenka started 2012 on a run, winning the Sydney International and the Australian Open - her first major - and gaining the No. 1 ranking during a 26-match winning streak.

But after a first-round exit in the French Open, Williams finished 2012 as the most dominant woman on tour. She has won 34 of her last 35 matches, including titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics, the U.S. Open and the WTA Championships.

With the Australian Open starting on Jan. 14, and neither Azarenka nor Williams playing another tournament before then, Friday's semifinal shapes up as a classic.

``I'm going up against the world's greatest tomorrow. She had a fabulous year,'' the third-ranked Williams said of Azarenka. ``I feel like I have nothing to lose. She's playing so well, she won I think in 20 minutes today. I have a lot of work to do tomorrow.''

Azarenka actually took 68 minutes to win her quarterfinal match. And she was looking forward to a chance to beat Williams, a 15-time major winner, before the first Grand Slam event of 2013.

``Well, it's a tough match, there is no question about it,'' Azarenka said. ``It's going to be a great test for the Australian Open.''

Azarenka and Williams are the only two seeded players still in contention in Brisbane after No. 36-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia beat No. 4 Angelique Kerber of Germany 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3) in the first of the quarterfinals, her second win over a top 10 player this week after defeating 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the first round.

Pavlyuchenkova will play Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, the lucky loser from qualifying who got into the main draw when No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova withdrew because of a sore right collarbone. Tsurenko had a 6-3, 6-4 win over Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia.

Gonzaga beats DeMatha on Hail Mary in bonkers WCAC championship game

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Gonzaga beats DeMatha on Hail Mary in bonkers WCAC championship game

The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) has a long history of football excellence, and the 2018 championship game was no exception. 

No. 2 Gonzaga College High School defeated No. 1 DeMatha Catholic High School, 46-43, in the title game at Catholic University of America on Sunday night thanks to three lead changes in the final 60 seconds and a game-winning Hail Mary. 

After allowing  DeMatha to race out to a 20-point lead, the Purple Eagles scored in the second quarter on a one-yard rushing touchdown. Dean Engram, son of Baltimore Ravens’ WR coach Bobby Engram, caught a 35-yard pass to score again for Gonzaga, closing the deficit to just six at 20-14. DeMatha rushed in another touchdown and intercepted Gonzaga’s next pass before entering the half at 26-14.

Both powerhouses scored a touchdown in the third, leaving the teams to fight until the very end of the fourth quarter in order determine the 2018 championship. That's when things got extra weird.

With 39 seconds left, Gonzaga's Sam Sweeney caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Williams to give the Eagles a 40-36 lead. 

But on the ensuing kickoff DeMatha senior Dominic Logan-Nealy returned the kick to the end zone, giving DeMatha a 43-40 lead with just 15 seconds left.

Gonzaga would get another crack at the title, and they did not let it go to waste. Williams hurled a desperation pass to the end zone with no time remaining. Eagles' receiver John Marshall got his hands on the pass and snagged the game-winning touchdown catch to give Gonzaga the stunning 46-43 win. 

The winners immediately rushed to celebrate with their student section, but the protective fencing separating the two was ultimately torn down.

The WCAC champions end the year 9-3. Head Coach Randy Trivers emotionally addressed his troops after their battle, reminding them that Gonzaga won their first title on Catholic University of America’s field:

DeMatha ended its season 8-3.

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NFC East Update: Division race tightens as Redskins stumble, Cowboys surge

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USA Today Sports

NFC East Update: Division race tightens as Redskins stumble, Cowboys surge

When the sun came up Sunday morning, the Redskins held a two-game lead in the NFC East and looked to have a clear route to a division title. 

By the time the sun went down, a lot changed. 

Washington lost at home in a crazy game to Houston, but big picture, the more important outcome was the broken leg for Alex Smith. The Redskins now turn to backup Colt McCoy, and while the Burgundy and Gold remain in first place, their lead shrunk.

  1. Washington Redskins (6-4, 2-0) - Talk about a roller coaster game. The Redskins got down early to the Texans, trailing 10-0 in the first quarter, but fought all the way back. In the process, the team lost Smith for the season, but McCoy played well when he entered the game. A veteran in Jay Gruden's system, McCoy should be able to step in and run the offense without any hesitation. Will that be enough? What isn't being talked about in Washington: a suddenly slumping run defense. A huge game looms Thursday against Ezekiel Elliott and a surging Cowboys squad. Up next: Nov. 22 @ Dallas, 4 p.m.
  2. Dallas Cowboys (5-5, 2-1) - It seemed like the Cowboys season was over a few weeks ago after a humbling home loss on Monday Night Football to the Titans. Two weeks later, the script has flipped. Dallas won their second straight game on Sunday, holding off a late Atlanta rally and winning the game on a last-second field goal. Elliott went for 201 total yards from scrimmage and the Cowboys young defense continued to make impressive plays. Jerry Jones' team struggles on the road, but at home, the Cowboys are 3-1 this season. Up next: Nov. 22 vs Washington, 4 p.m.
  3. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6, 1-1) - Fans waiting for the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles to get it together might want to stop waiting. Philly got boat raced in New Orleans on Sunday, losing 48-7 and dropping to two games below .500. Carson Wentz threw three INTs in New Orleans and really, while the QB was bad in the Superdome, it's hard to pin the Eagles' woes on any one thing. The offense hasn't been very good, and the defense hasn't either. Sitting just two games back of the 'Skins and one behind Dallas, don't count the Eagles out yet. But don't really count them in either. Up next: Nov. 25th vs New York Giants, 1 p.m.
  4. New York Giants (3-7, 0-3) - Don't look now but the Giants might be the hottest team in the division. Or at least not the coldest team in the division. The Giants won their second game in a row on Sunday, a nail-biting 38-35 victory over Tampa. New York got out to a big lead before the Bucs crept back in it, but powered by four combined TDs between Saquon Barkley and Eli Manning, the Giants did enough. Simple arithmetic suggests the Giants are closer to a Top 5 draft pick than a playoff run, but hey, they haven't been eliminated yet. Crazy things happen in this league. Up next: Nov. 25th @ Philadelphia, 1 p.m.

 

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