Illini close season with loss to Northwestern

Sports

EVANSTON — The Illinois football team was hoping to play the role of spoiler on Saturday. Northwestern came in needing a win to get their 6th and become bowl eligible. The Wildcats pulled away for the 48-21 win.

Wes Lunt and Joe Spencer walked off the field for the last time as college athletes arm in arm.  It only seems fitting that they did, the center-quarterback duo have been through a lot the last few years.
 
“We just said we loved each other,” Lunt said. “We’ve been through so much together. He’s just kind of been a rock for me to lean on. He’s just been a great guy, a great teammate.”
 
“I’d lay down in traffic for that guy,” Spencer added. “It’s just been such a fun ride with him and a fun ride with all these guys. I”m so thankful and walking out with 12 one more time, it seemed right. We’re closer than any two on the field and very close off the field.”
 
Lunt and Spencer are two of 24 seniors who played their final game as an Illini on Saturday.  It’s a group that only won 8 Big Ten games in their four years, averaging just 4.5 overall wins per season.
 
“The seniors and the whole team just never gave up, just kept fighting, always coming to practice, two-three hour practices just grinding every day no matter winning or losing on Saturday,” Lunt continued.
 
Several Illini went out playing their best games of the season. Lunt threw for 377 yards, the highest total this year and second most in his career.  Receivers Malik Turner and Justin Hardee both had career days as well.  But it wasn’t enough to add up to a win, as the Wildcats ran away with the victory, clinching a trip to a bowl game.
 
“Unfortunately it wasn’t the type of year that we wanted it to be, but I know for a fact that Illini Football is definitely on the rise because Lovie will take this program to the next level,” senior Justin Hardee said after the loss.
 
Lovie Smtih said it himself, they’re going to go straight into recruiting, hitting the ground almost immediately.
 
“We’ll all, of course, stay in Chicago and start working for that. We need to let our roster have a different look. That’s what you do every year but this is our first recruiting class coming in. We’re looking at all areas,” Smith said. “A little JC (junior college), absolutely, but the bulk of what we’re going to do will be with high school athletes coming in.”
 
“I think his sell right now is just playing for him. You’re in a pro-style defense. You get to play for Coach Lovie Smith, and that’s really why I came here,” senior linebacker Hardy Nickerson.
 
Coach Smith has eleven commits right now. He could have up to 14 more in the coming two months or so.
 
And that could be even more important this season. Overall the Illini finish with just three wins, but there is certainly optimism from the coaching staff moving forward. 

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