Austin Starr made one when it mattered most.
After narrowly missing a 33-yard field goal with the Hoosiers trailing 32-31 early in the fourth quarter, Indiana's placekicker knocked through a 33-yard field goal as the game clock expired to lift Indiana to a 34-32 come-from-behind win over Illinois in Champaign.
Starr's field goal capped a 10-play, 64-yard drive in the game's final 2:23 and ended Indiana's 17-game, five-year Big Ten road losing streak that dated back to Nov. 10, 2001. It wasn't easy, as Indiana had to overcome a 25-7 deficit early in the second quarter to end its conference road woes along with a three-game losing streak.
"I'm happy for Austin Starr," said IU Coach Terry Hoeppner, whose team improved to 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten with the win. "He's a great young man, and pretty young in his kicking career. The first one he missed looked awfully good.
"When he went out for the second one, I smiled to him (and said), ‘knock it through dude. Let's go.'"
Starr did just that, sliding his kick inside the left upright and sending the Hoosiers streaming from the Memorial Stadium sidelines to celebrate their first win in Champaign since 1979.
While Starr's kick was the game-winner, Indiana's star on the day was sophomore Marcus Thigpen. The Hoosier tailback accounted for 311 all-purpose yards, including 197 yards on four kickoff returns. His biggest play was a 98-yard kickoff return on the opening play of the second half that gave the Hoosiers their first lead, 28-25.
Thigpen also added 91 yards rushing on 13 carries and had a pair of receptions for 23 yards to spearhead an IU offense that totaled 389 yards of total offense and was 5-of-6 in red zone opportunities. Redshirt freshman quarterback Kellen Lewis did his part as well, completing 20-of-39 passes for 240 yards. That included a 5-of-6, 60-yard effort on the Hoosiers' game-winning drive.
"That last drive…we practice it every week the two-minute drive," said Hoeppner. "Kill it, and then that's called mayday when you have to run out and kick it, and it worked."
Early on, it appeared there wouldn't be any second-half dramatics for the Hoosiers after the Illini raced to a 25-7 lead early on. Illinois scored on its first five possessions, including 35 and 53-yard touchdown strikes from Isiah "Juice" Williams to Kyle Hudson. Illinois placekicker Jason Reda added field goals at the end of the first quarter and early in the second quarter to open up Illinois' 25-7 lead.
But Indiana bounced back with 21 unanswered points, capped by Thigpen's third kickoff return for a touchdown at the start of the second half.
"This was a huge win, and I told the team how proud I am," Hoeppner said. "They've been through a lot. We won this together. That became the them the last few days. It was going to take everyone, and it truly did."
After a abysmal first quarter, the defense bounced back as well. Other than a 27-yard touchdown pass from Dajuan Warren to Jody Ellis on a trick play in the third quarter, IU's defense kept the Illini off the scoreboard and kept the Hoosiers in the game. In the fourth quarter, the Hoosiers forced Illinois into four three-and-outs, including one when the Illini took over at its own 49-yard line with 3:51 remaining and with an opportunity to run out the clock.
Starr's field goal capped a huge comeback and an improbable win for an Indiana program that many thought would quit after three straight losses and its dismal start Saturday.
"We'll never quit," Hoeppner said. "What we had to do was start making plays and we did that."
Starr's Kick Lifts Hoosiers To 34-32 Win
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